Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Gully Puts His Shoes Back On

Three months ago I said to my farrier (the man who shoes my horses), Tom: "Gully needs hind shoes again, and I need you to separate out the bill for his shoeing from the rest. He's being leased."

Tom stared. "Gully's being leased?"

Me: "Yep."

Tom: "Uhh--how's he feel about that?"

Me: "He's in heaven."

Tom stared harder. "You're kidding. That horse hates everyone."

Everyone but me. For years, everyone but me.

Gully, Gully, my lovely first event horse, my partner, my funny finicky very smart boy. I hardly knew how lucky I was. I wanted to learn to event, and I understood Connemara ponies (Gully is pony bred but just barely horse height; you can call him either) made awesome eventers, so I bought a barely-broke Western-started not-quite-four-year-old Connemara gelding unseen and untried from a thousand miles away. We learned to event together, and we were awesome, which is not what I deserved for being so ignorant. Gully and I had so much fun together that it took me a long time to believe it when something went fundamentally wrong with him--you look back over our last two years of competition and it's a string of withdrawals, he'd get through one or two phases and then go lame. I hauled him up to a very good equine lameness vet in Kentucky and got the devastating news that Gully would never be sound again.

We tried a few things anyhow. They didn't work. Gully was 16, young to be retired, but he limped. He  wanted to work, but he limped at anything faster than a walk, and it broke my heart to know I was hurting him. I could give him a good life on our farm, and I did. He hung out, his hind shoes off, his front shoes padded to give him all the protection I could. We were both sad.

I bought a new horse, Sarah. Gully hated her on principle and perhaps also for personal reasons. Gully is the herd leader, but he doesn't like many horses (he adored my dear departed Trapper) and he dislikes all people except me. He loves me.

Until his new girl.

What happened a year ago still doesn't make sense. I've explained the details to other vets, other farriers, and a wide variety of experienced horsepeople, and none of them understand. Basically, an abnormality of unknown origin, cause, whatever, grew out of Gully's front feet over the course of 2 1/2 years, and, suddenly, immediately, he was sound again. I didn't believe it, but I started riding him again, occasionally, very lightly--and he was sound. A bit more work--still sound.

I really don't have time to keep two horses in work. Also Gully is twenty years old now, and even if he stays sound I will not ask him to compete at the level we used to do. But I knew a girl who needed a horse to ride--inexperienced but a good rider, a quiet rider. She came out and tried him, and Gully talked to her, the way he talks to me, and she understood him. So she rode him a bit more. And then this summer she rode him at pony club camp, under the gimlet eye of the coach who taught Gully and me for years. "One bad step," I said, "one hint of lameness, we pull him."

After the first lesson we bumped Gully and his new girl up to the more advanced group. They jumped the snot out of everything on the farm--Gully with his old light in his eyes. They understood each other. It was an astonishing, beautiful, incredible thing.

"Keep it up, and you could compete at a recognized event this fall," I said. So Gully put his shoes back on, and they did. The look of joy on that horse's face when he realized he was back at the Kentucky Horse Park, where we competed so many times, is one I'll always remember. The photos of their jumping rounds are all over the girl's Facebook page now. My favorite is the one where both of them are smiling.

This week they're headed to eventing rally, at the Virginia Horse Park. It's hilly there, and Gully's new girl suggested he might want to wear studded shoes. I agreed; Gully always liked the security of studs.

"Hey, Tom," I said to the farrier, "Gully needs drilled shoes. He's back in business."

Tom grinned. "All right."

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Weapon In Her Hand

At least I have a weapon in my hand
a command
and my men with me.    -Hamilton

I'm sharing this story with permission.

So my daughter has long had a fascination for old weapons. When we go to historical places, which is often, I can't drag her away from the armoury. Especially the swords. This summer in Switzerland, at Chillon Castle, she was cooing over a sword for sale in the gift shop with such enthusiasm that we considered buying it for her, and mostly only didn't because we could not figure out how one would get such a thing through airport security.

So I wasn't surprised that for her college PE class she chose fencing. She has to take PE for six out of the first 8 quarters of her college career.  She liked fencing immediately even though they started with footwork, no weapons. I could hear the enthusiasm in her voice.

Now my son's college has a Division 1 varsity women's fencing team that recruits world-wide. It's a place for serious hardcore fencers; they have former and future Olympians on their team. My daughter, on the other hand, goes to a small school with Division III teams--no athletic scholarships. Which turns out to be cool for her because on her fourth day of fencing class she was invited to join the varsity team.

My daughter is already engaged in a few extracurricular activities. Fencing practice will add upwards of 10 hours per week to her schedule, plus she'll be expected to work out on weekends. She wants to get good grades. She's trying to figure out college. And she thought fencing sounded fun, but course she hasn't actually fenced yet, just learned how to move her feet and wave a sword around.

I'm all about trying out weird things in college, because it's such an opportunity for adventure. My son took painting and a class on the anthropology of sports. My husband excelled at pottery. I was a chemistry major who ended up in a children's lit class that changed my life, plus I learned to ride horses in college and have ridden from then on.

My daughter went to the fencing coach and said she was interested, but also a little concerned about keeping all her life together. He said he understood. He said if she joined the team he expected at least a full semester commitment--no backing out next week. Then he said, "I know right now as a freshman it feels like you're lost in a scary forest. And now I'm showing you a doorway in the middle of the forest that's filled with weird blue light. And I'm telling you to walk into the light even though you can't see what's on the other side. But on the other hand, I can promise you that you'll come out with a weapon in your hand and you'll have been trained to use it. So that's cool."

As my daughter said, it was the perfect answer to get her on the team.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Tale of Two FaceTimes

This morning as soon as I was awake and dressed, I FaceTimed my small nephew Fred. Today is his second birthday, which is of course the first birthday he actually understands at all, and he's both delighted and delightful. He held onto his Mama's iPad and beamed at me, and blew kisses, and told me he was going to have birthday cake. I'm also fairly sure he tried to say my name--that's Uncle Kim, and Kim is not an easy word for toddlers. I love technology when it connects me with a special person who's a little too small to enjoy and participate in an audio-only call, but whose face lights up when he sees me.

It's hard to believe we've had two years of Fred. I got to visit when he was only a few weeks old, and it was his older brother who'd just turned two. I've been lamenting all year about the acceleration of time and here is further proof. Fred! Talking and laughing and singing whole songs, already!

Oddly enough, I also FaceTimed my daughter this morning, not because it pleases me to get a glimpse of her lovely self, though it does, but because her horse was having an anxiety attack and needed her desperately.

Mickey was actually about to get onto a commercial trailer to be shipped to a barn near Katie's school. She'll have him with her for at least the rest of this semester. We used to have a dog that was afraid of suitcases--when we got ours out, he'd panic, convinced for the fifteen years we had him that we were just about to abandon him forever every time we went anywhere with our suitcases. Mickey must have similar associations. My daughter is his second girl, not his first, and he forms very strong specific bonds with people. (Many horses do; you'd be surprised.) So he's not done well in general with her not being here for four weeks, and today, when I put on his shipping boots, he just about lost his gourd. He paced back and forth on the crossties. He pooped. Four times. He peed in the barn aisle, which he'd never done before, and he flinched away from me and broke into a sweat (it was 63 degrees out) and in general was in full meltdown mode. And this really didn't bode well for putting him on a truck for 10 hours.

I took a photo of him and texted it to my daughter. "He's so anxious!" she texted back, and then we FaceTimed. I held the phone so Mickey could see her on the screen, and she talked to him. He doesn't understand phones, but he knows his girl: he leaned forward, stuck his tongue between his teeth, and clenched his molars, hard, until his whole jaw relaxed. Then he licked his lips, over and over. This is actually how horses express submission and relaxation. He quit sweating and when the truck showed up he stepped onto it calmly.

We live in a wonderful world.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The World Turned Right-Way-Round

Yesterday I rode my daughter's horse instead of my own. It did not go well. It did not go disastrously--my daughter's horse is well-trained and in general an amiable if excitable guy--but Mickey was angry that it was me, not my daughter, riding him, and also had I noticed that she seemed to have disappeared? Where was she? Did she not love him anymore? He hoped I wasn't getting any idea that I might be HIS horse, because no. Just no.

I was only riding him in the first place because he's getting on a trailer Thursday morning to go join my daughter at college, and it seemed reasonable to be sure he in good shape for the trip.

Meanwhile, Sarah, my mare, and Gully, my old gelding, were both annoyed that I was riding someone other than them. Gully has a new person--I'll tell that story soon--but she wasn't present and Gully would like some attention, too.

Sarah sulked. She's large and sulks exceptionally well. They all three went back out to the field in bad moods, and Gully--it had to be him, Sarah wears a grazing muzzle--bit Mickey on the ass.

Today was different.

First thing, of course, I gave the Ancient Toothless pony his afternoon soup. He's recently gotten to the point where he can't even manage soaked chopped hay, but he dives into a soup of pelleted feed with such enthusiasm I figure he'll live another decade, just to spite me. Then I fed everyone else. Then I attempted to scrape some of the hundreds of bot fly eggs Mickey's managed to pick up since Saturday off his hide, but he hates the bot-fly knife even when it's wielded by my daughter. He didn't bite me, but he made faces at me with his teeth exposed, to tell me that he would certainly bite me if he weren't so extraordinarily well-behaved. He also danced around me in circles. I gave it up. He'll arrive at a fancy event barn in eastern Pennsylvania covered in bot fly eggs. It won't be any worse than the time he arrived at the U.S. Eventing national barn with his winter coat half-clipped, in patches.

Then I took Sarah out of her stall. Her expression went from petulant to bliss. I brushed her, and she got happier still--all relaxed and cuddly. Gully, meanwhile, had gotten ridden by his new person earlier in the day, and he was content.

I saddled Sarah and we went for a long hack on the farm. The hay fields have just been cut; we rode through them, admiring the view. The heat's finally down a bit, and the humidity is gone; the mountains are dark green and blue beneath a pale blue sky. We went out to the seven-acre field for a good trot, and I could tell Sarah felt the change in the weather. She stepped right into her foxhunting trot, a long, loose, swinging stride she can maintain for miles. Sarah loves riding to hounds, and she's right, the season has started. We'll probably hunt for the first time this Monday. I had no way to tell her that, of course, but she'll know soon enough.

We made loops of the field until I thought my ankles were bleeding. I'm breaking in a new pair of riding boots, the first in eight years. People all told me that boots were more comfortable these days but it's bunk.

I pulled Sarah back to a walk. We said hello to the neighbor's goats, then went out to the jump field. Sarah was keen, so I let her gallop a couple of laps of the jump field and then one more lap of the seven-acre field. When I pulled her up she was hardly blowing. She'd have been glad for more.

Back at the barn the old pony had finished his soup. I rinsed Sarah, cleaned the old pony's stall, and let the riding horses back out to pasture. Mickey stood, wanting my attention. He's a very communicative horse; he generally has a lot to say, and he tries hard to talk to humans when something is upsetting him. Now he looked at me earnestly, eye to eye, widening his eyes a bit and leaning forward.

Where is she? Why isn't she here?

It's okay, I tell him. She misses you as much as you miss her. You'll see her Thursday.

But I didn't have a way to explain it. I scratched his neck, and he sighed and stepped past me into the field. Where Gully tried to bite his butt again, just on principle.

Monday, September 19, 2016


Today, having acquired printer cartridges and a day without an impending deadline, I am finally printing a full copy of the most recent version of The War I Finally Won. I'm also doing laundry, putting my suitcases away, and--gasp!--organizing my office. You can now reach my desk chair without climbing over stacks of books or tripping over the printer. There is, in fact, a wide stretch of open floor. There are also several square feet of visible desktop, and that hasn't been true for a good long time.

The to-read piles still exist, but they've been moved and consolidated and they're really not nearly as obtrusive, at least from the point of view of my chair, as they used to be. Books for specific projects (TWIFW, the King Tut book, review books, and Golden Kite books) are in separate stacks on my counter. I can actually use my loom again, having moved the books impeding its operation, and I've even straightened up some of my knitting. My hopes are that sometime this week I might tackle both my hand-wash and my mending piles. Ambitious, I know, but I'm like that.

Today is a big deep breath of air. This weekend was another.

I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Mid-South regional conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I gave the opening keynote speech on Saturday morning and taught a session on writing historical fiction on Sunday. I left the conference feeling like I'd rejoined my tribe.

Now, I've been an SCBWI member for something rapidly approaching 30 years. I value what I learned in the organization, both as a beginning writer and a blossoming one. I've been to conferences in Massachusetts and Indiana as an attendee, and in Indiana and North Carolina as faculty. But I live five hours from Nashville, the heart of the writing community in Tennessee, and for the last several years haven't made the effort to connect with my fellow writers there. I have now, and I'm so glad I did. I'm reminded how much fun it is to swap stories of the Worst School Visit Ever, or the craziest thing an editor ever said to you. I'm reminded how good it feels to share what I've learned; I'm also reminded how much I still have to learn.  I wore my cowboy boots and I spent three days with my people. It was brilliant. I'll be back.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A quick trip to LA

Los Angeles was really fun. The Judy Lopez dinner was lovely, I thought my speech went fine, and I got to meet Kelly Jones, author of Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer. I told her that I lived on a farm but my husband drew the line at chickens. She said her husband was fine with chickens but drew the line at goats. I've had goats; they're not as much fun as you'd think they'd be.

Los Angeles is crazy-busy, at least to someone from the sticks like me. Heading out of the airport in a taxi, going the 12 miles to my friend Holly's house, on Saturday afternoon, I found myself in seven lanes of highway traffic each direction, going 25 mph. Fourteen lanes of traffic! It was unreal.

Holly Goldberg Sloan, on the other hand, was entirely real, as was all of her family. One of her sons was so like my own that every time he spoke I started laughing. Her husband was lovely; her mother was lovely. Her friends--we went to a birthday party down the street--lovely. I got to know Holly over the 2 1/2 days of the Anderson Bookstore YA Conference 2 years ago. There were 40 authors there, and I came away feeling like I had made two good friends among them. This weekend, I felt like Holly had already become an old friend, someone I could fall in and out of conversation with easily.

It was also brilliant to talk with other writers. They're thin on the ground in Bristol, but I'm telling you, Los Angeles is chock full of 'em. I couldn't live there--those highways! and no room for horses--but it was brilliant to be there for a few days.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

City Possum, Country Possum

I'm in the Bristol airport right now, typing this on my phone, which is not an efficient way to write. I'm headed for Los Angeles, where tomorrow I will accept the Judy Lopez award for TWTSML.

This will be an adventure. I love traveling and can be at home in many disparate places, but I suspect L.A. Will be right out of my league. I'm staying with a friend, Holly Goldberg Sloan, author of the amazing novel Counting By Sevens and also of my son's favorite childhood movie, Angels in the Outfield.

I truly love Holly, but here is the difference between her life and
mine: to publicize her book Appleblossum Possum, she did a photo shoot of Dustin Hoffman--yep, you read that right--reading the book to a trained Hollywood possum, who sat on Dustin's lap, clean and fluffy, wearing a sunbonnet and an expression of interest. Whereas the last time I saw a possum that wasn't roadkill was in a torrential rainstorm last spring. The critter must have gotten flushed out of his burrow by the rain and he was high tailing it across my lawn.

Flight's boarding. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Fork In the Road

Well, just a moment ago I mailed yet another version of The War I Finally Won (sequel to The War That Saved My Life) off to my people, and I thought, I've been down this road before. Several times.

But yesterday when I was talking to my college-freshman daughter, I thought, I've never been in this situation before. 

I've been a mother nearly twenty-two years. Until two weeks ago (two weeks ago yesterday, but who's counting?) I always had children at home. Ok, once in a very great while they'd go off to their grandparents without me, but not often. I remember when my son was a newborn, and I was starting the ritual of bath and changing him into pajamas and reading him a story before bed, and it was such a departure from my usual after dinner routine (do dishes, read or write), and it was sort of a shock to think that my routine was going to be changed FOREVER, every night for the rest of my life, only it wasn't really, I just didn't know it then.

I've been a writer longer than I've been a mother. I've had this sweet end-of-the-manuscript feeling many times before. Heck, I've had it seven times on this novel so far alone. It's a really good familiar feeling.

So everything's a little swirly right now. I didn't blog right when I dropped my daughter off, because it didn't feel right, and then I didn't blog since then because I really really needed to get the revision finished before I hop a plane to Los Angeles (that's true!) and now I'll be back blogging regularly because I've got lots of stories. I've got another pass or two on this novel, too, and I've got phone calls to make to my beautiful children, and I'm hanging out at the fork in my road, one path well-travelled, the other new, only I'll be walking them both at the same time. It's good.