Friday, November 8, 2019

Requiem for the Best Horse

Every night since he died I've dreamed of Gully. I have a thousand memories, all of them good.

Some of them were only good in retrospect. The day he and his best friend, Syd, got loose at a horse trial, dive-bombed the adult beginner novice warmup area, then cavorted on the cross country course for half an hour before being caught? I was fairly ticked off at the time. Now, though, I remember the glee on Gully's face. I remember my daughter collapsing across a hay bale with silent laughter. It was a dozen years ago. I remember it like yesterday.

Before I got Gully, I had never evented, but I wanted to. My children were 5 and 2 when I had to retire my honest horse Trapper; we already had my son's cheerful pony Hot Wheels. We had just started building our house and barn and really I had no business getting another horse. This was still in the early days of the internet--when people sent you actual videotapes of sale horses instead of putting them online. I started looking at Connemaras--an Irish pony breed, known for their intelligence and athleticism--just, of course, for information's sake. For education.

Did I mention I had no business buying a horse? Did I mention I knew very little about eventing?

I'd look at horse tapes and think, nope, not that one. Until I saw Gully.

On the tape he was in an indoor, under Western tack. He'd had exactly six weeks' work under saddle, and then his owners, who lived in Alberta, had thrown him back into the field. He was three years old. He'd not been started over fences. He'd not been ridden English.

I loved him instantly. Couldn't tell you why. Which was when I had to fess up to my husband--oh, by the way, I've been looking at sale horses and I found one I want, and he's so far away that going to try him doesn't seem feasible, and also I'm not sure how much sense it would make since he knows very little, and I want him. He's my event horse. He's perfect for me.

You can see how much my husband loves me.

When I told my soon-to-be-neighbor and already good friend that I planned to buy a horse I'd have to board a least a year while we finished the house, she said, "Think about this. Light fixtures--or horse?"

"Horse," I said.

She frowned. "LIBRARY BOOKSHELVES--or horse?"

I flinched, but said, "horse."

"Wow," she said, "I clearly don't understand this horse shit at all."

Years later, when I was training with some of the top women in eventing, they'd ask how I came to find my wonderful horse. Their response when I told them was always the same: a look of total incredulity, a shake of the head, and a "wow, were you lucky."

I was so lucky.
I loved him so.

He loved cross country. He loved to jump. He was honest and brave, crackingly smart, oh so good.

Seven years ago I retired him due to a mysterious persistent lameness. We thought it was navicular, but it wasn't, because after two and a half years of turnout he became once again entirely sound. (There's a bit more to the story, but not much, and no clear answers.) I was competing my new mare Sarah then, and didn't have time to keep two horses going,. My daughter had her fabulous Mick. Gully wanted a job, and my young friend Caroline needed a horse to ride. I thought they might be a match. They were.

The very first time Caroline rode Gully, out in our seven-acre field, he tripped on something, fell to his knees, and tossed her. (I don't think it could have been the only time she came off him, but I can't recall another.) Later, in the barn, Caroline said, "Afterward he wouldn't stop apologizing. He kept saying, 'I'm so sorry!' and I kept saying, 'Buddy, it's alright!' He'd say, 'I didn't mean it!' and I'd be like, 'Accidents happen, I understand!'

My daughter stared at her. "He TALKS to you?"

Caroline looked embarrassed, but held her ground. "I mean, um, yeah--he was totally talking to me. I mean, I could understand everything he had to say."

My daughter said, "Because that horse only ever talks to my mother."

Which up until then had been true. Gully only ever loved me, until he met Caroline. Then he loved us both. He carried her for three years without ever a cross-country fault. They were fifth in our region in the year-end standings a year ago, when age caught up with him and we retired him once again.

For the past two months he'd been ill, and lame, and then better, and then not, and then the problem looked fixable, and then even though it should have been getting better it wasn't. Gully was cheerful in his stall, eating, happy to see me, but putting less and less weight on one leg. My vet needed to take an xray but her machine was broken; on Monday, as soon as it was fixed, she came out to the farm.

I was two states away. I could hear the dread in her voice when I picked up the phone. No way to save him. No choice.

My husband offered to drive us back immediately but it would have taken at least eight hours. I called Caroline. "I'll be there," she said. "I'm going there right now. I am on my way."

Any gift I ever gave her, letting her ride my lovely boy, was more than repaid in that moment. Caroline showed up with a whole bag of his favorite cookies. She Facetimed me and my daughter at college to let us say goodbye. Gully was surrounded by love through the end.

Every night I dream of Gully. All the dreams are good.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Where the Magic Happens

I'm in Pasadena, California, for the day. I flew here yesterday, leaving on the 6 am flight out of Bristol, landing in Burbank late morning. This afternoon I'll be pleased to receive the California Young Readers Medal for The War That Saved My Life at the California Library Association conference's Rose Tea. Tomorrow I'll fly home, arriving there at midnight. It's a peculiar sort of trip because it's a lot of flying for only one thing--no other events tied to it. The time change didn't help--you could either say I woke up at 4 am yesterday, and went to bed slightly before midnight, Eastern time, or you could say I crashed at 9 pm last night, Pacific time, but woke up at 1 am the same day. Either way I slept as long as I could and was wide awake in my hotel room at 6 am local time. By 7:15 I was in the only open nearby coffee shop, where the three white customers in residence, including me, all had fresh shower-slicked hair, and all the customers, including the two black ones, were hunched over cups of coffee, reading books. I felt very at home.

I read two books on the flight here, both for review, and after coffee and superb avocado toast I came back to my hotel room, where I am now, and wrote both reviews. There's not much else to do in Pasadena on Saturday before 8 am. I suppose there's probably a farmer's market somewhere, but I can't haul a bunch of fresh veg with me on tomorrow's flight home. At breakfast I was reading the book I picked up yesterday, at Vroman's, a wonderful independent bookstore here in Pasadena: The Body, by Bill Bryson. I like Bill Bryson always, but I think this topic is uniquely suited to his wry, gentle writing. "...it is surely astounding to reflect that not once in the three billion years since life began has your personal line of descent been broken. For you to be here now, every one of your ancestors had to successfully pass on its genetic material to a new generation before being snuffed out or otherwise sidetracked from the procreative process."

Last night I had dinner with Christine and Amy, two teachers here in Pasadena. Christine picked me up at the hotel; when I got in her car, she said, "Do you often get into cars with total strangers?" I replied, "Only if I've met them on the internet."

Christine was the first teacher who ever wrote me about The War That Saved My Life, the actual week of its publication. We've been Facebook friends ever since. Usually when I go to conferences I have busier schedules, and know lots of other people there. But this isn't a school library conference and there are almost no other kid-lit authors here. Nor do I know many people in Pasadena. But I did know Christine, virtually at least. She was bold enough to want to spend time with me, and I was bold enough to want to spend time with her. As such, and with the addition of her friend Ann, we had a really lovely evening, and now I have two new real-world friends.

Despite my chattiness I am not at all an extrovert, and sometimes it feels foreign to me to go out and look for company and friends. I find, though, that when I do I am always glad. Realistically a seventh-grade English teacher in Pasadena is not likely to be an axe-murderer, no matter what she says. The biggest risks to last night were that Christine and I might find each other boring, or offensive, or I'd hate the restaurant she chose, and those were actually pretty small risks compared to the chances of having a very nice time in good company, which I did.

Slightly outside my comfort zone: it's where the magic happens, every time.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

In Which I Go To the Farmer's Market, At Last

Early this year, or perhaps late last year, because that's the kind of planners we are, my husband and I looked at our 2019 calendar and blocked time off expressly and only for staying in our mountain house.

We've had a second home on the high slopes of Grandfather Mountain for some 13 years now--incredible, but true--but especially in the past few years have not been very intentional about spending time here. It's only a 75-minute drive from our home in Bristol, so we tend to think we can just be spontaneous, when the truth is we rarely end up with time in which to be spontaneous in. I plan as far in advance as I do because otherwise I end up never fitting in the most important stuff. So this year we blocked a week in July, a long weekend over Labor Day, and a week in October.

What I didn't block is time away from my own work. Until this year, especially when my children were small, I tended to work very part-time in the summer. I slacked way off. It was fabulous.

This year rolled around a little differently. I finished the fifth draft of Fighting Words on June 26th. (That was its deadline.) Then, even though I knew the book was being "launched" by marketing, and I knew it wasn't quite done, I felt so happy about the draft that I threw caution to the winds. I accepted a short story assignment and several book reviews, and made ambitious plans to write some crazy grant applications for my nonprofit, Appalachian Literacy Initiative. Then my editor assigned the sixth draft due August fifth. Along with all the other stuff.

I had a little bit of vacation that week in July, but I worked a lot more than I usually do, and when I wasn't working I was fretting or thinking or planning. I wasn't a whole lot of fun. Still, I made all my deadlines, and I was happy, really happy, about the work I'd done. The short story was fun, the grant applications completed, and the sixth draft was much improved. Which, quite frankly, it needed to be.

So there. Big breath, done. Right?

Wrong. On August 12th my editor told me that the seventh draft would be due September 3rd, also known as the Tuesday after Labor Day Weekend. I pointed out that, haha, that was a perfectly ridiculous deadline, especially as I would be overseas over 8 of those 21 days. She replied, haha, look at you traveling, have fun and also get the seventh draft done by September 3rd. We want ARCs by NCTE.

ARCs are Advanced Review Copies and NCTE is the National Council of Teachers of English conference, at which I'm speaking. So phew. It was insanity with a higher calling.

I had been speaking to my husband lovingly about my plans to go to the Watuaga County Farmer's Market, in Boone, the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, while he golfed, but when we woke up that Saturday I shook my head. I was going upstairs, to my writing desk. No farther. He said, "But you love the farmer's market." I said, "I love meeting my deadlines, too, and trust me, I can't have both."

I worked my tail off and made it. Draft seven-and-a-half was due September 16th. Then there was some back and forthing about a few specific scenes, and then the book flew through copyediting in two days, I kid you not, and I corrected the copyedits in between sessions at another conference, and all of a sudden, here we were, a week in Linville in October and me with no deadlines at all.

We drove over after Bart got off work Friday evening. We had a lovely dinner with friends. We slept deeply. Saturday morning I dropped my husband off at the golf course and headed to the farmer's market.

We hadn't stopped at the grocery yet, and there wasn't much to eat in the house. We were even out of cereal. My husband spread peanut butter on some crackers, but the cracker box had been open all summer and the crackers were so stale they folded. He found some very old yogurt in the fridge. I ate nothing. I was waiting for the biscuit truck.

I have a method regarding the Boone Market. I walk the entire length of it before I buy anything. At the near end, at the biscuit truck, I buy a loaded (that is, with cheddar cheese baked in) biscuit with egg and bacon. They fold the wrap so that I can eat it while I stroll through the market. I admire everything. At the far end is the coffee truck. I drop my biscuit wrapper in the trash can and get coffee. (Saturday, when I got in line, a young woman in front of me grimaced and said, "They're already out of nitro brew.")

I sip the coffee and start to shop. Enchilada sauce--I try some on a chip, and it's got a stronger bite than the stuff from the grocery. Into my bag. Some new potatoes and sweet potatoes--just a few of each. Then turnips, zucchini. The jalapeno pimento goat cheese I always, always buy. A whole bag of heirloom tomatoes. The hot weather lately has been annoying but at least we still have tomatoes.

To my surprise, a few late ears of sweet corn. Some peppers so bright and lovely I want to paint them. Then at a stall selling fall-themed wreaths I fall in love with a door swag--evergreen shot through with small berries of orange and purple, and tweezles. It's gorgeous. I can't carry it back to the car along with all the other vegetables so I ask the woman who made it to put it to one side for me. I'll be back.

I head to the car. On the way I get a bunch of flowers--dahlias and sunflowers and basil as greenery. They're lovely. And some apples--a small bag, of mixed oddball varieties.

As I'm walking back to the market, having unloaded my vegetables, I'm stopped by a polite young man with oddly expressive eyebrows. He's holding a clipboard. "Friend," he says, "are you registered to vote?"

"Yes," I said, "and I intend to do so." He smiles

I'm wearing a sweatshirt with a deep pocket. At the beginning of the morning I'd taken some twenties out of my wallet and stuffed them into the pocket. I keep paying for things from the money in my pocket and stuffing the change back in--I'm not really keeping an accounting. I go back for the swag (later I hang it on my front door. It's gorgeous) and some lettuce and a small bag of basil. Then, because my life is so ridiculously privileged, because I have just gone through the farmer's market buying every lovely thing to eat, I stop at the desk near the biscuit truck. The Avery County Food Pantry collects donations every week, and uses the money to buy fresh vegetables for their own shelves. I empty the contents of my pocket into the jar. I'm not sure how much it is. I don't stop to count.

It is a glorious day.

Monday, August 12, 2019

What Happened This Summer

What happened this summer mostly seems not to have been about me.

I don't mean I didn't do things. I did an awful lot of things. I finished a draft of FIGHTING WORDS in June and another--the sixth--this week. That feels something like a miracle. (How close are we to finished? I don't know.) (I hope I find out soon.)

But a lot of what happened to me this summer happened also to other people. Our stories are intertwined. There's no way of telling my part without also telling theirs, and I don't have the right to do so. I sometimes have the obligation to not do so. As an example--I loved spending several days with all five of my lively nephews. But, even though I've protected their privacy by always referring to them by pseudonyms on this blog, I still can't tell you about our adventures without saying things they might prefer I didn't. And even though they might not care right now, they might care someday. Their childhoods are not blog fodder, any more than my children's were. (When I say something about my children on this blog, it's with their permission. They always have veto power, for any reason.)

I could write about grief, and joy, but it wouldn't be mostly my grief or my joy.

That's not why I didn't blog all summer. I mostly didn't because of the two drafts of FIGHTING WORDS--this is the hardest I've ever worked over a summer--and because I was busy learning some things for ALI. But many times when I thought, oh, that's a great story, and started thinking out how to tell it in my head, I would realize it wasn't a blog story, and leave it alone.

Here's a small story I can tell, from yesterday.

My daughter acquired a horse this summer. That's a long story, and not a blog one, but suffice to say he's a lovely kind large animal of indeterminate age and breeding and a fairly traumatic past, with very little in the way of actual knowledge, and our goal, my daughter's and mine, is to never scare or hurt him. My daughter's out of town right now, and the horse--his name is Merlin--likes to do things, so yesterday I took him out on a rope--which is to say, in a rope halter and a lead, not under saddle--to our 7-acre field. We have 3 tires jumps out there. Think Oreos stacked sideways only tires. My daughter'd ridden Merlin over the smallest one, but he was a bit anxious and didn't seem to understand it the way he understood jumping a log. So I worked him over it on the rope--he was still puzzled, but figuring it out. We jumped it all four ways (both directions, off both reins) and I praised him and rubbed his face. Then we moved on to the second tire jump. He jumped it back and forth. I praised him and rubbed his face.

We moved to the third tire jump, which is narrower and on a bit of a slope. I told Merlin to start walking around me in a circle, preparatory to aiming him at the tires.

He stood still beside me.

I told him again, more clearly. He took a step closer to me.

I told him again.

He said no.

I knew he understood me--basic rope work is something he gets--so I stood still, and stared at him, and asked him what was wrong.

He said, this just keeps getting harder. You keep making it harder.

I realized, from his point of view, jumping the tires was a LOT. I was asking him for too much, too fast. 'Sorry, dude,' I said. We walked back to the first tires, the easiest ones. He jumped them once and we walked back in. And he was happy, and so was I.

Now. I've been working a lot this summer preparing for Appalachian Literacy Initiative and the new school year. I've learned about fundraising and grant writing, and I've figured out how to put our entire story into a coherent narrative, backed by research. Essentially, it's this: access to books is the number one driver of student success, yet 61% percent of low-income kids don't own any books at all. Many low-income families lack access through libraries as well. The best thing we can do to help kids succeed is give them books, and we're doing it. ALI is currently enrolling fourth-grade classrooms in our program for the 2019-2020 school year. THE DEADLINE IS THURSDAY. Please help spread the word, so we can get as many books to as many children as possible. The application is on our website at readappalachian.org.

The test scores for the classrooms we served last year won't be released until October, but I've heard anecdotally from two of our schools. Both showed large gains in reading. One school went from 23% of fourth graders reading on grade level to an astonishing 96%. Of course that's not all ALI--we're not claiming that--but, as the number one predictor of whether a child will graduate from high school is whether they can read at grade level by the end of fourth grade--wow, a whole bunch of kids' futures suddenly look much brighter. We are so happy for their success


Monday, May 13, 2019

Standing in Ada's Shoes

It's Monday morning. Eight am. I'm home now, sitting at my very messy desk, drinking coffee from my favorite mug. Yesterday I spent on an airplane, pretty much. The day before that--Saturday--I had one of the most amazing and loveliest experiences of my author life.

We were in County Durham, which is the far northeast of England, for the final day of our trip. We went there simply because it was a part of England we'd never explored before, and it was pretty close to other places we knew we wanted to be. It was a sort of extra day. My husband looked the area up online and saw that they had a 300-acre living history museum called Beamish. I love living history museums. I warned him that I would want to see the Whole Thing, and we did.

They had an 1820s era village, complete with church, working farm, and one of the earliest versions of a steam railway. (The engine we saw running was an exact replica of one they still have, but don't run, from 1813). They had a 1900s town, and also, separately, a 1900s pit village with an open drift mine and a working steam winding engine from 1855, one of the last of its kind still functional. The colliery was fascinating; a man there gave us a detailed and fascinating demonstration of the enormous steam engine in action. I learned a lot in that area.

They had a 1940-era working farm. Like the main house in the 1820s area, and the drift mine, the buildings were original to the site, and dated back a few hundred years, but it this case they were furnished and set up as though the inhabitants were living in 1940, during World War II, on the English home front.

It was Ada's world.

It was Lady Thorton's gamekeeper's cottage, and the Elliston's farm. A perfect combination. One of the two houses really had been a gamekeeper's cottage. The other really had been the home farmhouse on an estate farm. The front door of the farmhouse opened directly into a large room, with a sofa and chairs clustered around a coal fire on one side, a large table on the other, and a kitchen just beyond. Upstairs in the gamekeeper's cottage, one bedroom was larger than the one Ada and Maggie shared, but oh so familiar--two painted iron bedsteads, a wardrobe, a rug on the wood floor. I went to the window, pushed aside the lace curtain-the blackouts were down--and there, as I live and breathe, was Mrs. Rochester.

They had a square wood pen in the back garden. Inside the pen was an enormous black and white sow. Mrs. Rochester--the pig from TWIFW.

I nearly couldn't believe it, but it got better. We went out the back door, by the kitchen--and there was the Anderson shelter. Covered in dirt, as it would have been, with Jamie's hens roosting on top.

I lowered myself inside. I was wearing a sprig of lavender I'd been given earlier in the day. The Beamish Anderson shelter wasn't very damp--all Anderson shelters tended to be damp, as they were set three feet down into the ground--but it still smelled faintly of damp. I breathed in, and the smell of damp combined with the smell of lavender--which Susan hung inside the shelter in TWIFW, so the damp smell wasn't so triggering to Ada. I stood there smelling what Ada smelled, and for just a moment I felt her, viscerally as never before, the panic and the fear and her shining courage. I was physically standing in a world I created, inside my fictional character's head, only it was also entirely real.

I was so overwhelmed I had to sit and drink some Bovril to recover. (I am not making that up.) (They were selling hot Bovril.)

Anyway, it was--I'm at a loss for words, never a good thing in a writer. I want to say the coolest, the most amazing, but that's not quite what I mean.

It was holy.

Also? I totally nailed it.

Today is Ada's 90th birthday, and as you all know, because I've told you so many times, Parnassus Bookstore is having a 24-hour online fundraiser for my nonprofit, the Appalachian Literacy Initiative. You can order anything at all from Parnassus today, May 13th, using the code BOOKJOY, and ALI will get 10%. Pro tip: buy ALI a gift card--for every ten dollars you give, we'll actually get eleven!

Access to books is a social justice issue. The Appalachian Literacy Initiative puts books in children's hands.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Will you Buy a Book, for Yourself and Ada?

Ada turns ninety years old on Monday.

Ada Smith, the character of my heart, the prickly stubborn girl from The War That Saved My Life.

Ninety years old. She's still alive. Still thriving.

I've carried on and on about how I believe access to books is a social justice issue. It's simple. Children with access to books learn to read much better than children without. Children who read better do better in life. Poor kids lack access to books.

Give them books, and change the world.

That's why I created my nonprofit, Appalachian Literacy Initiative. We're putting books into children's hands. I'm super proud of what we're doing, and super pleased to be partnered with Parnassus Bookstore in Nashville. Not only does Parnassus get us books at a discount, they're running a fundraiser for us.

On May 13th ten percent of all online orders will go directly to ALI.

You can buy anything at all--any book you like. You can buy gift certificates or subscriptions to Parnassus's signed First Editions club. And you'll be helping a kid find joy in reading.

Buy a book in Ada's honor. Buy something you've been wanting to read, and help a child get a book they want to read, too.

And! This is really, really important: when you order online at Parnassusbooks.net, be sure to add the code BOOKJOY. That's how ALI gets credited.

And thank you.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Off to Cheer For the Game of Thrones Guy

Well, here I am, dusting off my passport. Tomorrow I leave for England and the Badminton Horse Trials. This is a bucket-list item for me. Last summer, when some friends from Scotland were visiting, we discovered that they'd always wanted to see Badminton too (by which I'm pretty sure I mean, Lesley always wanted to see Badminton, and Calum, like Bart, is willing to go along). So we made plans. Pretty soon they morphed into absolutely excellent plans, as we're staying at an Airbnb in Bath, a city I've always wanted to explore (hello, Jane Austen!) and afterwards heading up to Leeds so the boys can golf. Lesley got tickets for a history of clothing museum, something that's right up my alley, and we're planning to eat and drink spectacularly well.

It's nuts to do two amazing trips like this back-to-back, but that's how it worked out: the golf invitation had a certain time attached to it, and of course Badminton is always the first weekend in May.

OK. I'll back it up for the majority of you who don't know what the heck I'm talking about. Badminton is the grandmother of all three-day events, the biggest and hardest competition of my lovely esoteric sport. It takes place at Badminton, the estate of the Duke of Beaufort. From pretty much every measure it's the most difficult event in the world, this is its 70th year, and cross country day attracts something like 250,000 spectators, because in England the sport and this event are big deals. Badminton accepts entries based in part on how important you are--they run 89 pairs, and keep a ranked wait list. Last week the entries closed. One rider, Ingrid Klimke, dropped out, and another took her place, and now the field is set. There are exactly two Americans, neither of whom I know at all, which is odd because our sport is so small that I really do know a lot of the top American athletes. Tamra Smith is based in California, and Jenny Caras is currently based in England, and I've never met either of them. I wish them well, of course, but from a personal level I'll be rooting for Mark Todd, the King of All Eventing, and also for Jim Newsham, better know as the Game of Thrones guy.

I've read several of the Game of Thrones books but not watched one minute of the HBO series. However, last summer I found myself in a part of Northern Ireland where chunks of the series were filmed. My daughter met the man who directs the sword fighting, and got to see several of the named swords--she swung one around, which made the man nervous. (Understand that this wasn't some official GofT event. We happened to be walking around this ruin, and two guys happened to be practicing mock sword fighting. My daughter stopped to watch, and things progressed from there.) Anyway, the day after that, my husband went to golf, and my daughter and I went to ride. There was a stable in the town that offered two-hour rides through a lovely forest, only to adults who were competent riders.

Now, you need to understand something about the Irish. They lived under English oppression for so long that they're genetically compelled to take the wind out of anyone who tries to impress them. Tell an Irishman you can ride any horse at all, and he will set out to find one that you can't, even if you're paying him for the honor. Don't brag to Irishmen is a cardinal rule.

On the other hand, there are a lot of ignorant tourists in the world, who truly believe that because they once sat an ancient placid nag in a paddock they know how to ride. So it's a fine line, explaining that you really do know how to handle a horse without bragging on yourself. I usually let my well-worn paddock boots do the talking. Show up in gear that has seen a couple of years of use, and I look as though I know one end of a horse from the other.

So it was. We pulled up and parked in a small yard with a typical Irish set of stables--a low row of tin-roofed stone buildings cobbled together higgledy-piggledy. No apparent pastures--those turned out to be about a block away. A woman a bit older than me walked over, looked me up and down, sighed, and said, "You do ride, don't you?" I nodded. "I'll just get some other horses," she said.

"What's that?" asked my daughter, getting out of the car.
"We qualified for an upgrade," I said.
"Ah."

While the woman and her husband brushed off a different, presumably less nag-like, set of horses I had a peek inside the buildings. Several contained stalls with large, study cobs--exactly the sort of horses I'd expect to take on a two-hour hack through a forest. Then I stepped inside another building, and gasped. There was a prince among horses--a tall, gleaming, bay Irish Thoroughbred, well-muscled, excellent bone, up on his toes. Stunning. He was as like the other horses as a Ferrari is to my minivan.

We started off, the woman, my daughter, and I. Turns out that the horses the woman and my daughter were riding had both been used in Game of Thrones. The forest we rode through was used in a big chunk of filming, and the woman's son, she told us, was a stunt rider for the series.

My daughter told her that we were eventers. She smiled, and said her son was an eventer, too. "Rather a good one," she said. "He rode at Badminton last year."

So that was the gorgeous bay--a Badminton horse.

I told her that I was planning a trip to Badminton. "I hope some of my friends will compete," I said, "if not I'll cheer for your son."

"If he goes next year," she said. In horses nothing is certain.  It's bad form to pretend otherwise.

We went on to have a perfectly lovely ride. Like me the woman had been a pony club DC. She and my daughter traded pony club and eventing stories as we rode. (Eventing stories are like fishing stories, except that they're usually true. You can't make this sh*t up.)

Anyhow, her son is Jim Newsham. His lovely horse is Magennis. Join me in wishing them well.