RUNNING THE BULLS

The Oregon sky arcs grey and wide over Red Horse and me as we leave the barn for a relaxing ride at Saddle Mountain Cattle Company. Cold, wet weather has kept us in the covered arena. We need to expand our horizons. But where to go? Down by the whispering Applegate River, to wade ankle-deep into that flashing water? Across the grasslands to where 80 Black Angus cows hang out below the ranch-house? Or to a field by the trees where three bulls graze?

I point my pony past the long arms of the Rainbird sprinklers. Put the sprinkler line between us and the bulls, who seem unconcerned with our presence. They’re 200 feet away. We’ve ridden near them before. No cows in sight, nothing to ruffle their calm. We start jogging large circles. Then small circles, figure eights, serpentines. Move to lope circles, each way. I like to revisit our horse-show moves, not let the training slide. It makes me feel we could compete again if we chose.

A crow flaps by overhead. A dog yelps somewhere on that forest ridge above the pastures. But not an anxious yelp, a bored, lazy one. Is that an eagle’s scree I hear?

Hoofbeats pound softly on cropped grass. I finger the reins to adjust speed and body angles. I rock and sway gracefully. A wonderful ride! Bliss. Like when a novel-writing session goes well. 

Until it doesn’t. The bull start to stir. Suddenly the largest one, a heavy-shouldered beast, lowers his head, strides toward the middle sized bull and rams his face into that of the other who pushes back. They stand locked forehead to forehead. They circle around joined heads that are capped by bony ridges minus horns. Around and around they go, the smallest bull watching.

The oldest bull pushes his opponent backward again and again, their hind ends tracing a larger circle. Then the smaller bull peels off, walks away. But the big bull follows, increasing his pace while the third bull trails these two.

Slowly the group arcs around. They are headed our way! Unnerved, unsure what that they will do, whether they are targeting me, I turn Red Horse toward the barn and start walking there. Safety is a good quarter-mile away. Don’t want to run; that may excite them more.

But they definitely are coming my way. Still targeting each other, or focused on me? I take no chances. I urge Red Horse into a jog. I look back over my shoulder. Still the black bulls come. I halt and turn to have a good look.  They’re coming even faster!  Who knows their intent? My heart races, my mouth goes dry. We trot forward faster.

We reach the barn doors a few dozen feet ahead of the running bulls. I pile off, lead Red Horse inside, and drag shut the heavy door as the bulls stampede by, headed to the cows by the house in the south.

Big exhale. Tragedy averted. But I’m shaken. It’s probable I wasn’t in danger at all. The bulls may have been focused only on themselves. But, better safe than sorry, yes? Corrective action taken in a timely fashion, ahead of the disaster, saves the day.

Note to self: If you THINK you’re in trouble, you probably are. Or at least headed for it. Therefore — as with a rogue, runaway novel in progress — take immediate action. Do not tarry, or be lulled or distracted by pretty scenes and phrases By past success.

Change course. Set your sights on a reachable, reasonable goal and head there. With dispatch. Go. Ride on, write on!

SHOW TIME!

The double closet doors stand open, hangers displaying a variety of appealing colors, textures and styles of footwear, shirts and cardigans. The bureau drawers are open, too, showing pants of many colors. Which will be chosen for the upcoming author event for which I am the main attraction? I must choose soon. It’s nearing show time.

I’ve already rehearsed bits of my spiel in the mirror. Gone through what I will say, what feelings I will project for the hordes of adoring fans (if only!) that will attend to my every word and gesture. Why do I get the feeling that this bookish outing in which I surely will be judged, is eerily like competing in a horse show? Like riding in the spotlight, trying to stand out from the herd of other contenders, trying to look happily competent and sure of winning while my gizzards flip like a landed trout?

I’ve already flailed away at the mirror. Fluffed recalcitrant locks. Blushed my cheeks. Filled in eyebrows, eyelashes and eyelids with a dizzying array of crayons and potions. Applied with a discerning hand, of course. At my age (72) I don’t want to resemble a lavishly tended grave!

This outfit is tried and discarded. Then that one — “too dressy,” “too warm,” “too tight” (I’m cutting back on Cheezits tomorrow). I choose one, appropriately feminine and Western. Yes, that’s the look I want today. Then I hold out a book. I say a few words about it, trying to look as if I think this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Cubed hay?

The Honda is packed and ready to hit the road. Books, posters, bookmarks, pens, goodies and guest book. And finally, so am I. Ready. Maybe. I’m sure I must have forgotten something. But I cannot for the love of Mike remember what. I can barely remember my own name, let alone salient points I want to mention about my “New West Mysteries with Heart.”

On the road again, driving to the bookstore (or library, reading group, literary festival), it feels as if I am warming up. I again practice saying my main points, running through the coming gig mentally, visualizing perfection. That, too, is what I did those wonderful years showing my horses in various events — Western pleasure, horsemanship, trail, hunt seat and showmanship. A confident calm settles over me. I really am ready.

The bookstore looms ahead. The “arena” where the magic happens. I park, bring my gear inside, set up at the table, adjust the microphone. Listeners trickle in. A tingle riffles through me. I review my points. A hint of stage fright — just enough to put me on point, with all my prep set to peak at the right time. Breathe, breathe. Cue energy. Do it like you did at home. Only better.

“Hello, it’s great to see you here today,” I begin, making eye contact with the two or twenty that have set aside part of their day to see me and hear about my books. “I hope you’re ready for a good ride — or, read — with my amateur cowgirl-sleuth in the modern West.” Or words to that effect. Keep it natural, make it easy for “judges” to like you and your books. Win that class!

I loved showing horses. A bit of a wreck beforehand, a bit overwhelmed by all the elements that went into preparing for those few minutes on the spotlight. Obsessed with this or that detail of outfit or presentation. Afraid of bombing, of going over like a dead horse.

But you know? Once underway with people watching, judging, responding, I come out a winner no matter how many judges like me, how many ask great questions, how many listeners buy my books. Really. It all depends on how you define winning. And believe me, I have a very broad definition of it!

READING COWS

Pardon me, but do you read cows? You heard right. Or, herd right. I am mesmerized watching them, in pasture. I feel at peace, and become lost — and found — in their world. It’s almost like watching the ocean. Or reading an absorbing book.

What’s your favorite breed or genre? For me, it’s big, blocky, ink-black Angus, though I love all breeds. But sometimes I like frisky ones or those determined to return to their herd after being cut out by dogs and horsemen. Again, I am reminded that cows, calves, steers, and heifers are in odd but important ways, a bit like books. And that’s no bull. You learn things, feel things, see through different eyes, reading both.

I gravitate toward the beef breeds — big, languid calves and adults who know their place on the land and with their peers. Like all cattle, they regard the world and its mysteries with large, curious eyes. They play and react rightly to needs, threats or attractions. Perhaps seek food or their calf. Reassure a herdmate, drive off interlopers, find shelter together. And often they just hunker down and chew things over.

So, too, with unpretentious yet powerful books. I like a book that’s confident of its place, nature and purpose — which may or may not, in time, include obscurity. For example, plain-speaking books that nonetheless move with a certain grace and at an appropriate pace. They can race occasionally. They can buck, twist, veer from their herd. Or merely ramble here and there, searching out a hidden tidbit.

The main thing, whether they be books or cows, is that they must show they know what they’re about. They must give a reader every opportunity to read and evaluate that. No apologies, just laying it out there with their own voice, their own unforced style. Just saying “moo!”

Let me offer examples of what I mean. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” for one. It is told truthfully yet simply from an educated Southern family’s viewpoint as life unfolds, halts, runs, turns and hesitates at the threshold of catastrophe. Even tips over into that, as we read, spellbound. Unable to look away, though the book moves along with no more exertion than necessary.

Other examples of books behaving naturally and honestly, true to type yet with their own brands, quirks and earmarks, are works by: Joan Didion, Craig Johnson, Catherine Ryan Hyde, Robert B. Parker, John Steinbeck, Molly Gloss, Ernest Hemingway, Will Rogers, and (insert your favorite) here.

Now watching friskier or prettier critters — like reading relentlessly zippier books — can be quite a delight. Even addicting. Let’s change it up, put pep in our perusals. Let’s grab this new Janet Evanovitch or that Lee Child. Venture into that mid-list author who’s charging strong!

But as a general practice, day in, day out, I am most at ease with books that are more like cows: Tomes that have natural lingo, reasonable pace and occasional bright, scary or funny situations, rather than the noisy, showy faster-moving ones. Life is cabaret enough, war-zone enough, Saturday-night-fever enough. I don’t shrink from such places or people. I seek truth with entertainment, after all. So I welcome the occasional thriller, chiller or romance all tarted up with hypercharged language and constantly shifting scenes.

I just don’t seek them as my main fare. For that, and for heartfillng peace and long-haul sustenance, I need my cows!

HOT OFF THE PRESS

I am “Over the Edge” with excitement today. The second book in my Pepper Kane mystery series, warmed by the hands of early readers, has at last hit online sites and select bookstore shelves. It’s about time. The conception was rip-roaring fun, as conceptions often are *blush*. The ten-month gestation, not so much — although there were many high points in the creation that really rocked.

The book began life as a novella. A short, sweet sumpin’ designed to bridge the gap between “Saddle Tramps,” the first Pepper Kane contemporary-cowgirl mystery, and its sequel flickering on the far horizon. I wrote a draft of this “shortie.” Had my amateur sleuth in present tense (both meanings) riding to the edge of Oregon’s Table Rock, where she rushed to stop another rider from falling off a cliff.  Seemed a good idea at the time. Didn’t it? What part of “no” didn’t I understand? Something did feel off. And my writers critique group howled with dissatisfaction. Back to the writing board.

Then my mentor Stella Cameron, a NYT and USA Today bestselling author, advised I write a full-length “Saddle Tramps” sequel book IMMEDIATELY. Which in writer’s lingo means six to eight months after the first. At most, a year. Or readers will forget you, she said, and move on.  Stella writes her brilliant English village mysteries in six months! Many bestselling authors write that fast.

Thus began the book that became the “Over the Edge” you see today. Incorporating parts of the rough novella, I crafted a more complicated plot with a larger, more diverse cast of characters, and then hauled them all off to Texas for a world-championship horse show.

Of course the book took WAY longer than I thought to write, revise and pull together. And buckets more blood, sweat and tears. For me AND my editor. Don’t they always? Even the cover gave me a few fits.

But now it’s out. At last.  I can breathe. And best of all? I really love this little bugger. If you can call 340 pages “little.” If you call weighing over a pound, “Little.” I am proud as punch. Can punch be proud?

Here. Have a cigar. Oh, and a pretty balloon. Many of you cheered and supported me in creating this novel. So thank you for that. Here. Hold the baby. Give it a good long look. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Then, when done, will you kindly leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads? Thanks, everyone. We’re all in this together — a family for the books!

 

 

 

Love not Lost

Last week while walking past the skinny window by the front door, I finally saw a flat, familiar-looking little brown package on the porch. Joy, relief and gratitude whooshed in. After eight months of writing my new novel — of living, dreaming, commiserating and rejoicing with its characters through every conceivable crisis and complication, the moment was here. My baby was crowning. The proof book awaited only a final edit and a nod to the publisher to fly out to the world of bestsellerdom. (If only!)

But as I stepped out to fetch the parcel and rip it open, the joy suddenly drained from me. Shock and anxiety rushed in. Holding the book in my hands, now icy and hesitant, I stared at that cover I adored weeks ago. Doubt fingered my spine. The cover of “Over the Edge” looks glossy and eye-catching, I thought. But is it too like that of “Saddle Tramps,” a previous book? Will it confuse readers? The back cover looked good. But it but didn’t particularly grab me in that emotion-wracked moment. There were typos. Where was the author blurb I’d managed to snag?

My overall reaction at seeing that proof book of “Over the Edge” — the second title in the Pepper Kane mystery series — was akin to what I’d felt years ago encountering a lost lover. Whether lost deliberately or by chance made little difference. The main thing was, that person meant a great deal to me, wove himself into my life, and then went away, taking a piece of my heart.

I never got that piece back. I still miss it — and them, in a way. The attraction remains. But then, so does the pain. Enough so that I’d be stupid to go there again.

The nice thing was – and I took comfort in that — I didn’t have to open the proof book, get into heavy editing and light revising, that very moment. It would be there when I was ready. I might have looked at a page or two, the Acknowledgments and Meet the Author. Just to make sure they read all right. They did! I could exhale, at least, about that.

In that moment of hesitation, I had a small epiphany. Hey. I could give the proof book to a writing friend who did line-edits on “Saddle Tramps.” A fine author in her own right (write?) and a retired professor, she could have at it first. Maybe by the time she finished, I’d be ready to face it again.

It’s been nearly a week now since that proof book hit the porch. Since it practically dared me to immerse myself in it. It’s time for me to take a breath, prepare to revisit my pain. Who knows? Maybe I can also rejoice in the good parts, in the happy times. My friend is done with it. She liked how nicely I reworked the book since she read it in-progress. It’s changed, she assures me. For the best.

Finally taking possession of it again, safe on the couch with comfort dogs all around, I gingerly opened “Over the Edge.” I started reading, notepad in hand, ruler on page, inching steadily down while I started my own proofreading. I settled in, beverage at hand, read some more. Odd, how I became increasingly comfortable. I saw both good and sketchy points with a wiser, more objective eye. Read almost as if this were written by another. One with no claim on me, no matter how tentative. One with no stake.

Hey, I thought. I can do this. I realized that, like lost lovers meeting again, we can each have our separate lives, run into each other occasionally, yet still have a connection. And, surprisingly? I was good with it. AM good. What’s even better? It’s good.

THE FEW. THE PROUD.

Do you love to tell friends about the great book you just read? Say, a fast-paced contemporary mystery like “Saddle Tramps,” splashed with wit, romance and equestrian adventure? Score! I seek a few good people to read and review a few good books. And make their voice heard by millions on the Amazon and Goodreads websites. (Thank the United States Marine Corps for letting me tweak their motto.)

So, readers. I would love to have you join my Beers Review Crew. Whether you know me as a real live person, as Carole T. Beers, Author on Facebook, as creator of the FB group READING COUNTRY, or as boss lady of this website,  know that your input is appreciated!

I read every review — good, bad or indifferent — very closely, and several times. Readers are my best teachers. But Review Crew members are a cut above. Having read a multitude of books both for pleasure and evaluation, they can, in a few carefully chosen words, teach me and other authors about writing better. They enlighten us about reader preferences or turn-offs in plots, pacing, covers and characters. And talk about wielding power! Having crafted a review, however brief, they can increase an author’s status exponentially.

The “magic” number an author needs to get noticed on Amazon is fifty reviews or more. That number puts a writer in the running for free ads and other perks. What author wouldn’t want that?!

If you have read “Saddle Tramps,” or when you do, kindly grab two or three minutes to visit Amazon.com and Goodreads.com. While there, enter the book title, scroll down, and write and submit a short review. Easy as that. It can be as short as one sentence! You’ll find links at the bottom of this page for your convenience. I will swoon with joy. OK. “Swoon” is perhaps too strong a word. I never claimed to be subtle! Let’s simply say I would have an extra bounce in my step as well as in my book recognition. Plus, I will pray that your own dreams come true — literary, relationship and otherwise. (I pray that anyway, but will light you an extra candle.)

Remember: Review, hit submit, and let me know about it via email at carolebeers@hotmail.com. That makes you an ex-officio Review Crew member. If you want to hear about and review future books, tell me there, or in Contact on this website. Then, if you live in the U.S., your name will be entered in a drawing for free Advance Reading Copies of my latest books!

“Over the Edge,” the next exciting Pepper Kane romantic mystery, is due out in early September. Like “Saddle Tramps,” it’s a “page-turning thrill fest,” to quote one reviewer, set in Oregon’s Rogue River Valley. With a side trip to Texas, y’all.

Getting an Advance Reading Copy or a Post Reading Copy (an ARC or PRC) is not “payola.” That’s because  these copies of a book, often under edit, are considered proofs that may include typos or other errors. These copies are what professional review groups see.

Now. Are you ready to join the Beers Review Crew? Awesome. Go!

Why stop there? Double your free fun by subscribing to my blog and newsletter. Find signup prompts in these pages. You will receive not only a warm virtual hug from Yours Truly, but also an occasional update on book projects, thoughts on writing (and life), horsey wisdom, recipes to read by, and lots more.

I can’t wait to see you aboard!

 

A Siege of Egrets

I saw a spectacular sight Sunday while out riding Brad in the 300-acre cattle pasture — Brad is my Paint horse, of course, so don’t get all het up thinking I meant someone else. That’s what one risks, giving horses human names, as you who have read “Saddle Tramps” know. I refer to where, early on in the book, Pepper says, “My shoulder hasn’t been the same since I fell off Bob.”

But back to my Magical Moment. Brad and I were traversing wide grassland along the Applegate River as the sun baked our hide and an intermittent breeze brought negligible relief. We had moved among the 80-cow Black Angus herd, assessing which cows and calves, which heifers or steers with brands and ear tags, we could turn away as we walked toward them. A fun exercise to build skill and confidence in a cowhorse and rider. And then we angled back toward the stable a quarter-mile away past a large, square and deep man-made pond. A tree and lots of dry brush reaches over it. Mud or concrete ramps lead down into it at the corners. Frogs, salamanders and bass call it home.

Brad and I rode a line about fifty feet out from the south bank. To our right, only the far surface of this oasis sunk into rocky, former river-bottom soil — was visible. But as we closed in, our eyes gravitated toward a long snag sticking out over the water at a forty-five degree angle. Lined up from tip to base of that leafless snag, were six of those great, streamlined, blinding-white birds whose flyway we humans inhabit in the Rogue River Valley: Snowy egrets!

I blinked. Brad raised his head and pricked his ears. Were these real, and were there really six of them? My eyes worked to distinguish the fowl from patches of pale wood and light brush. Yes, there indeed were six egrets, pure as snow, poised like statues, studying the water for a potential meal. It looked like an entire brood — two larger parents who observed four youngsters studying for their fishing license.

Trying not to disturb them, I urged Brad back to the stable. I unsaddled and groomed him as quickly as I could. I wanted to put him away and grab my cell phone to go snap egret pictures as soon as possible. Before they flew off. What a photo this would make. Unbelievable serendipity!

It was like those rare times an inspired scene magically drops into one’s writing — or some other creation. A gift from above. Or light from inside. You feel immense gratitude, while at the same time, hardly believing your good fortune. You naturally want to preserve it.

But when I finally got back to pond’s edge, phone camera at the ready, the egrets were gone. The pond looked as “vacant” as usual. Its surface lay dark, tranquil, undisturbed, as if those ghostly birds, those inspiring images, had never been.

I guess I knew they’d be gone. But I went there anyway, hoping to capture a moment. All I have now was a glowing memory. And yet — sometimes a memory is all one needs. It’s all one needs to call out magic from one’s mind. I can look at that memory image all I want. I just can’t share it with others.

Unless I make it live again in words. And you can be sure I will do that. The miracle image has found a place. Not only here, but in my third in-progress Pepper Kane mystery, “Ghost Ranch.” I only need to locate a perfect spot for it. Perhaps when Pepper rides her horse along the Applegate River … and comes across a sight provided by Providence.

Provided. Providence. I love how those “P” words derive from the same root. See how a writer’s mind works? And I like how an egret group officially is called a “scattering,” “herd” or “siege.” Can a group of writers, other summoners of ghostly yet memorable images, be called the same?

HUMOR, COME HOME!

Who stole my sense of humor? Why can’t I see “the funny side” as often as I used to do? Is it because the world has lost its sense of humor? I once had one. I remember using it just last week. It’s seen me through tough situations as well as ordinary ones. I really need it back. Actually it’s kind of a trademark — although it occasionally turns around and bites me.

I am fuzzy on when I first became aware there was such a thing as a sense of humor, or that I had one. Like many of you, I saw humor in cute baby animals struggling to do adult things and in young friends making rude noises. LOVED the bumbling antics of Wile E. Coyote in cartoons, or “Howdy Doody” on TV. Laughed like a loon listening to radio comedies such as “The George Burns Show.”  Gorged on the jokes and physical humor of Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason and Lucille Ball. Well meaning but oddball or clueless characters gone wild. Life lessons delivered in an entertaining way!

In elementary school or as late as junior high, a certain snarkiness about stupid or pretentious people or events snuck past my lips when I believed I’d only thought it. Then I paid attention when an uncle, aunt or other esteemed elder snapped a wisecrack like a bullwhip. Yak yak, KA-POW! Maybe make a crazy copycat gesture or eye-roll for emphasis. They instantly got people’s attention, cleared the air of bullpoop and made their hearers laugh. Lightbulb flash: Who wouldn’t want to gain attention or lighten others’ day? This was power pure and simple. Baby wanted her some.

Most of the folks I admired, my dad included, had keen senses of humor. They could pop a wisecrack with the best. Being pioneer stock raised on ranches, where anything that can go wrong, will, they doubtless used humor as a coping device.

Working with this genetic propensity and armed with lines from Dorothy Parker and Mae West, I copied funny moves and cracks from entertainment icons. Gaining courage and bolstered by my buddies, I graduated to spoken humor and writing. One liners were my forte. Get in, bite hard, get out before drawing fire. Or else learn to duck.

I wrote humor columns for school newspapers. Got in trouble for pranks and reckless comments to the wrong people. But I forged ahead, honing the craft. Finally I found joy penning witty phrases where appropriate (or not!) in my 32 years as columnist and features reporter for The Seattle Times. My headline, “Gentlemen, start your bananas,” earned a Society of Professional Journalists’ award. Topped a tale about a soapbox derby featuring garden produce.

That was a high point of my career, humor-wise. Although describing a famous dance troupe’s “Swan Lake” as “chainsaw ballet” is right up there. The irate calls and letters I got for that one! Truth to tell, some dancers did look more like lumberjacks than lightfooted royalty. Fake trees trembled when the dancers landed. Gratifyingly, others savvy about dance had to agree.

As I age I grow even less tolerant of puffery, transparent subterfuge and other tom-foolery. I often just let ‘er rip, damn the torpedoes and disgruntled looks. I weave humor into my Pepper Kane mysteries, and stories such as “I Ate Thee Ottoman: A Young Dog’s Journey from Shame to Redemption.” Why stop a good thing, an empowering thing?

And yet oddly, I have. At least for the moment. Brood, brood. Here’s a hanky. Cowgirl up, I tell myself. Life circumstances — relationship, money, or minor health issues — seem to have sucked the humor from me. Or at least driven it underground.

I trust it is still intact, somewhere deep inside. Hell-oooo, hell-oooo! Anybody? You can come out now. In fact you MUST come out now. It’s how I cope, part of how I communicate, with offense only to the deserving few. Including myself. It may even be how I heal from The Great Unpleasant, one tentative laugh at a time. Humor come home!

Wasn’t it Norman Cousins who famously said, “Laughter Is the Best Medicine”?

CRAZY HORSE

I mean no disrespect to the revered American Indian warrior. But my sweet sorrel Paint horse, Brad, should be re-christened Crazy Horse. That ‘s because my boy, after two years of behaving (mostly) calmly in hand or under saddle, inexplicably has taken to obsessive observation of birds, bushes and other scary stuff like garden tractors that MIGHT MOVE UNEXPECTEDLY or MAKE A SURPRISING AND POTENTIALLY DEADLY NOISE!

Just yesterday after I led him from his pen and saddled up, Brad seemed good with life and with me. The outdoor temp was in the 90s with a gentle breeze blowing. Our barn manager, Terry Stringfield, trundled to and fro on his tractor, fluffing the arena footing and then mowing the field grass back of the barn. Normal and calm, right?

I led the saddled Brad to the outdoor arena. Again, he seemed copacetic with everything. I looked forward to a good if short ride, as it was growing late and I planned to work in a visit before dinner to a friend temporarily ensconced in a rehabilitation facility.

Mounting Brad in the arena, I settled into my rough-out work saddle and adjusted the bridle reins. He felt at ease, though with a slightly elevated head. That should have been a clue. We eased into a walk, me riding with legs softly engaged and both hands holding the reins low, in light contact with the bit, on either side of the saddle horn. We’d round the ring each way and then do our training circles, diagonal passes and straight lines at the three gaits, as usual.

Or not. At the far corner Brad jumped as the wind rustled an oak branch. His ears and neck went up and stiff. I made him trot small circles at the point of spook, in each direction. That would alter his behavior and bring his attention back to me. Then the tractor mower clanked over some sticks — ka-blang! He jigged, and tossed his head. More circling. More leveling out. Ahh. Now we’re good to go.

A few moments later, jogging down the rail, Brad again acted antsy. He again began looking for every potential threat beyond the arena. So, even more circling, leveling, driving calmly forward. We passed previous “shy-spots” until we could pass without incident. I grew sweaty. Brad grew sweaty. I hoped my friend wouldn’t mind industrial-strength horsey smells at her convalescent center!

The Grand Shy — which should be a recognized dressage maneuver — happened OUT OF THE BLUE when we’d been “riding” a half hour. We were trotting nicely along the rail when Brad’s haunches suddenly spun left, his front end lifted, and he ran BACKWARD for thirty feet. Heart in mouth, I teetered on the edge of an unplanned dismount.

After regaining control, it was back to work, sweating with the oldies — myself, and Brad — though at age 10 he’s really only middle-aged in horse terms. It took another half hour. But we finally executed a reasonably slow and relaxed walk, jog and lope on a loose rein, with forward motion, all the way around the ring, and through the middle. We’d win no prizes. It wasn’t pretty. But we got ‘er done.

I marvel at how my writing is like this, some days. I sit down all fresh and ready to write forward, mingle with my characters, enjoy the scenery and engage in the action. I am in control, mistress of my literary universe. This work, overall, will be fun. I settle in.

Then some element revolts. A character veers off course, an action scene stops mid-struggle, or a conversation jumps the tracks. That’s when I must take a deep seat, steady my hands, and — YES! — breathe, relax. Work through it. No matter how long it takes.

Sometimes you just have to be happy with what little you get, even if it’s barely passable. Sometimes you let it go. After all, tomorrow is another day.

Alternately? Go saddle a different horse!

WHERE I BELONG

Yesterday I drove the white Honda six miles south of Grants Pass to scope out a ranch where I might move Brad, my handsome sorrel equine partner and plot-development guru. I’ve visited Nelson Cutting Horses and Saddle Mountain Cattle Company before. I felt drawn to its state-of-the-art stable, sweeping fields and covered arena. Perfect for keeping a horse clean and slick, and a rider sheltered, during the punishing days of our cold, wet winters and sizzling summers.

Plus there was the prospect of riding a grand 300 acres of irrigated pasture and exploring the tree-lined banks of the Applegate River — a fish-rich tributary of the mighty Rogue. Big skies, picturesque green hills, lush pastures for black Angus cow-calf pairs that roam at will. All this and a clean, well lighted stable, too. What wasn’t to love?

My only sticking points were, as before, the depth of the arena footing (deep, for cutting horses), a community tack-room where one’s saddle, etc. could be “borrowed” at any time by a guest or another boarder, and that there might not be like-minded souls to ride with.

Don’t get me wrong. I have loved keeping The Bradster (Shiny Good Bar) — the semi-retired Western show horse seen on my “Saddle Tramps” book cover – the past two years at Cedar Tree Stables near town. It’s beautiful, too, and features perfect footing in the outdoor (only) arena and grassy arena-trail course. The stable is clean and safe with outdoor pens for every horse. But most times I ride alone, as other owners have other priorities. And I ride outdoors only, even in extreme weather. If the other horses are turned out, Brad has to stay out with no shelter: He freaks at being the only horse in the barn!

All this circled around my mind again as I drove the packed-gravel drive along the river toward Saddle Mountain’s stable and arena. The pastures spread away to a forested ridge to my right. The giant, rolling Rainbird sprinklers were arrayed sparingly. Black cattle dotted the grassland. A red-tailed hawk picked at his ground-squirrel breakfast on a boulder by a watering hole.

An “aaahhh” feeling filled my heart and made me smile. Would this be our new home? Would this be enough to seal my decision to relocate Brad? However, despite the ranch’s beauty, I still had reservations, as  noted. Would I, would he, be happy here?

Then I saw the dozens of pickups and horse trailers parked outside the arena. Riders coming and gong. There was a monthly barrel race set to begin! I parked, walked into the stable and met a darling younger woman, Katie, who boarded there. “I love it,” she beamed, saying she rides her older Paint horse often in the fields and beside the river. I learned the tack-room situation might be improved, and that Brad could be legged-up (conditioned) to stay sound in the arena footing.

Climbing into the small covered grandstand that overlooks the arena, I was surprised to see and chat with a longtime, horsey artisan-friend, Spirit, who’d brought her daughter to the races. The excitement and camaraderie there were electric. Here were my people — all ages, active, outdoorsy, fit and dedicated to The Sport of the Horse!

As I prepared to leave, I spied a quartet of young women sitting their horses outside the arena wall, looking across it at the barrel-racing action. They radiated youthful energy, fearlessness,  can-do attitude. Sixty years ago, I was one of those girls. (Still am, in my opinion.)

That did it. Hey, Nelson Cutting Horses & Saddle Mountain Cattle Company? Brad and I are so THERE. Or we will be in a few weeks. I can hardly wait.

Change and experiment are good. They open minds, spur growth. But nothing compares with the feeling of being where you belong, being among your own — be they riders, readers or writers.