Out Now: The Hidden Horses of New York

It’s a book birthday! The Hidden Horses of New York is now available from your favorite bookstore!

The Hidden Horses of New York on Kindle

Insta your new Kindle edition and caption it with #hiddenhorses to show it off!

If you haven’t read the first thousand words of The Hidden Horses of New York,  you can do that here, or just hit preview at Amazon. The book explores the equine communities of New York City, including carriage horses, mounted patrol horses, urban cowboys and horse racing, through the eyes of a young woman named Jenny. You can read more about the story behind this book at this post.

Jessica Burkhart, author of Canterwood Crest and Wild Hearts, said: “A horse lover’s delight! Full of heart and NYC grit. I loved exploring the hidden horses of NY with Jenny! Absolutely a new hit from Natalie Keller Reinert.”

The Hidden Horses of New York is available for Kindle, to read for free with Kindle Unlimited, or as a paperback. The gorgeous cover makes it a great addition to any bookshelf!

Email me directly at natalie @ nataliekreinert.com to order a signed copy.

Please don’t forget to leave a review for The Hidden Horses of New York, and tell your friends if you enjoyed it! Thank you for being awesome readers and supporting equestrian fiction!

 

Thank You, Patrons!

Today is #ThankYouPatrons Day!

Thank you Patrons

When you become a Patron, whether it’s for a writer like me, a podcaster, a visual artist, or any other creator, you’re supporting art for art’s sake and changing the way the internet works. When you support an artist directly, commercial gains can take a backseat to free expression. More relatable, more recognizable, more soul-stirring, more inspirational!

When I think of all the stories and writing I’ve been able to share with you this year, I am simply in awe. People call me prolific. They looked at my double set of tables at Equine Affaire this year and said: “Natalie, how do you write so much?”

Two tables of books at Equine Affaire this year!

Well, I get the support I need to write as much as I can. And I have a lot of stories to tell!

So on #ThankYouPatrons Day, this is just a reminder that you mean the world to me. That I listen to every suggestion you make and read every comment you post with keen interest, and I am writing for you.

Visit my Patreon to learn how you can become a Patron and receive special access to unpublished work, preview stories as I write them, and contribute comments and suggestions to my work!

5 Questions with Equestrian Author Dawn LeFevre

It’s time for another five questions! I’m so excited to welcome Dawn LeFevre to my site. Dawn has just published a new equestrian fiction novel, Backstretch Girls. And with her racing creds, I think everyone should know about it! Let’s dig in.

Backstretch Girls by Dawn LeFevre

Dawn, thanks so much for joining me at my blog! You’ve just published a new horse racing novel, and we want to hear all about it. But first, tell us a little bit about your background. You’ve got some first-hand racing experience, right?

I worked at Atlantic City Racecourse every summer from the age of 16 until I graduated from Cook College.  After graduation, I became an assistant trainer for Walter Medio, aka, the King of AC and spent 13 years owning and training racehorses at AC, Garden State Park, Monmouth, Meadowlands, Delaware and Philly Park (now Parx). 

Dawn LeFevre win photo

LeFevre’s racing credentials are rock-solid!

That’s a great resume! Tell us a little about your new book and the inspiration for Backstretch Girls.

Backstretch Girls is about the friendship between a hardheaded ponygirl, Teagan, and Anne, a naïve jockey wannabe and is set in the late 1980’s at Atlantic City Racecourse. Teagan is the black sheep in her Olympic equestrian family; Anne grew up in a trailer park and had to play stable slave to ride, yet they bond over their love of horses.

Dawn LeFevre racehorse Haunting Melody

Haunting Melody, a real-life inspiration for LeFevre’s Backstretch Girls

 

My inspiration for Backstretch Girls is all those wonderful Thoroughbreds I knew and loved. All the racehorse names in my book are cobbled together from real racehorses. Lucky All Over is a tribute to two wonderful fillies – Plain All Over (a stakes winner voted champion New Jersey bred two year old filly in 1989) and Luckey Lipco (a game claimer known for her win streaks at AC).

Haunting Melody is the only actual name I kept, although the real horse was a dark bay filly I owned back in 1999.

I love those names. Getting names right is such an important part of writing equestrian fiction! What’s your writing process like? Did the idea for Backstretch Girls come slowly to you over the years, or all at once?

My writing “process” is just me scribbling incoherently in a notebook then trying to read my handwriting while I edit and type it up. First, I create my main characters and their backgrounds then figure out how I’m going to “ruin their lives”.

While Backstretch Girls is my first published novel, I’ve actually written two others prior to it, one of which was also set on the track. My goal with Backstretch Girls was to provide an unflinching look at the racing industry – the sexism, the unethical veterinary practices, and the owners who put profit ahead of their horse’s welfare. On the flip side, you have those unsung workers who will sacrifice everything for their horses, the grooms, hotwalkers, trainers, ponypeople, etc.

It’s definitely a wild and wooly place, with good and bad people. (And horses honestly!) What’s coming next for you? Are there more racing stories on the horizon?

I’m currently working on my next novel which will also be set in the racing world but is a more personal story – the main character trying to cope with the loss of her mother while training a ragtag stable of claimers.

My mother was the reason I fell in love with horse racing; we’d watch all the major races on TV together as well as the New York racing show every Saturday when I was growing up. For my high school graduation gift, she took me to Kentucky where we visited Claiborne and Spendthrift farm and I had the pleasure of meeting Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. My mother passed away suddenly in 2018 and it devastated me. I stopped writing for over a year. Finally, I decided that this book would be a tribute to her and Garden State Park.

That’s a lovely tribute. Now, I love to know what everyone’s reading, so tell us about some of your favorite reads of 2019. What do we need to get on our reading lists ASAP?

The last horse racing book I read was Casual Lies – A Triple Crown Adventure by Shelley Riley. I always wondered what had happened to her after the 1992 Triple Crown; she’d done an amazing job with this horse and yet, was never given another big horse to train. The book is a double love story – between Shelley and her husband, Jim and then between Shelley and Stanley, aka, Casual Lies. It’s a funny, sad, entertaining read and a must for any woman thinking about becoming a trainer. It saddens and angers me that still no woman trainer or jockey has won the Kentucky Derby and few even are even given the chance to compete.

I just finished reading When Elephants Fly by Nancy Richardson Fischer. I was originally drawn to it because of the ongoing debate of whether animals should be kept in zoos and circuses. Right now a lot of those same animal rights questions tackled by this book are being thrown at the horse racing industry. Activists are quick to cry “Ban it!” without realizing the repercussions, such as what are you going to do with all these animals after you shut down the circus or racetrack? I was also pleasantly surprised by how well the subplot regarding the main character’s struggle with mental illness was handled.

That does sound really interesting. It’s so important to look at both sides of an issue… I wish more people would do that before they just start shouting “animal rights!”

***

Backstretch Girls by Dawn LeFevreWell, many thanks to Dawn LeFevre for jumping in and telling us about the inspiration and backstory for Backstretch Girls. 

You can find the Kindle edition of Backstretch Girls at Amazon here. 

Paperbacks are available from BookBaby here.

Add Backstretch Girls at GoodReads!

Preview 2: The Hidden Horses of New York

Did you read the first thousand words? Ready for another sneak peak? Here is the second thousand words from my new novel The Hidden Horses of New York, available in pre-sale from Amazon! Order it now to receive an automatic download on November 26, and add it on GoodReads here.

Read the first thousand words here if you haven’t already!

Racehorse in the paddock before a race

Image by Artcats from Pixabay

In her pocket, Jenny’s phone buzzed three times—then stopped again. They were learning, she thought, tugging Mister in a circle for the jockey.

Mister was not the sort of horse who stood still for mounting, despite Jenny’s best efforts to teach him good manners. She’d come home last summer and ridden him each morning, teaching him to be a racehorse on the white-fenced oval back home in Ocala. It hadn’t been enough. Jenny’s mother had snorted that a body could hardly expect some rude New Yorker to teach manners to a two-year-old colt, and Jenny had protested even while inside she felt a glow of pride at being called a New Yorker. There was something about belonging in the city that was beginning to call to her by then, a realization that the alien streets and endless traffic and soaring towers were somehow as richly intoxicating as the green hills and ancient oaks and molasses-scented feed rooms of Ocala, and she had already begun to wonder if she was going to stay on after school was over.

Now, she was just waiting for the chance.

Her phone was still and silent, but she felt it rumbling against her hip, a phantom vibration with every step. Her whole life was waiting to begin, and she’d find out what came next in minutes… if she could just get Mister out to the race course without bloodshed.

She kept walking the colt, slowing his stride infinitesimally (infinitesimally was all Mister would tolerate) as her mother held out her palms alongside the colt, waiting to help Manny spring into the saddle. Mister, watching him with a sideways ear, tensed his muscles, his steps shifting into a hopping-skipping jig, his hindquarters weaving sideways as he hit Jenny’s unforgiving hands on the leather and chain binding them together and he ran out of room for all of the energy flowing through him. He held back for a moment, and Manny put his hands on the saddle, his knee into Andrea’s hands, and jumped onto the colt’s back.

“Watch him in the gate,” Jenny’s mother spat out, falling back from Mister’s swinging haunches before he let a hind hoof fly, heedless of what might be in his way. “Don’t let him twist and carry on or he’ll miss the break.” It had been Mister’s undoing in all but his last start this year. It was the reason he was still in Florida in May, when everyone had expected him to go to Kentucky. He just hadn’t had the brain to go with his speed yet.

Jenny thought his brain had finally caught up.

“I got this, Miss Andrea,” Manny said, his voice confident. Jenny glanced up at him and he grinned back at her.

“I’m glad you’re riding him,” Jenny told him.

“Yeah, me too.” Manny laughed and adjusted his stirrups. Mister was still trotting in slow motion, but the jockey wasn’t bothered. The only thing that would have gotten his attention was if the horse reared or bucked. Spine flat? All systems go. “I like this boy. He got a lot of spirit, but he not stupid.”

They gave up their circle, and started toward the gap in the track fencing. The outriders were waiting on their track ponies, the retired racehorses and bored quarter horses watching the younger horses’ antics without interest. Track ponies had seen everything before, twice over. Jenny slid the chain free of Mister’s halter, and began to unbuckle the strap behind his ears, preparing to turn the colt over to the outriders. Manny wouldn’t be asked to control Mister alone until the bell rang and the gates sprang open.

A darkly tanned woman with a long bleached ponytail flowing from the back of her helmet leaned down from her rangy horse’s back, and, just as Jenny slipped his halter free, the outrider slid a slim leather strap through the ring of Mister’s bit.

She timed it perfectly; Mister was never free for a moment.

“Let’s go, old man,” the outrider told her mount, and the horse broke into a shuffling jog while Mister hopped alongside like a big gray bunny, shaking his head furiously against the outrider’s taut hold on his bridle. As he sprang away, a gob of white foam slopped from his bit and onto Jenny’s shoulder. She brushed the saliva away without looking at the damage done to her blouse, wiping her hands on her race-day khakis, which had seen much worse. For one long, frozen moment she just watched Mister cavorting at the end of the leather thong. He flipped his head, propped his shoulders, blew loudly through his nostrils. No one paid him any mind. The outrider was ignoring him, the pony horse was ignoring him, even Manny, perched above his withers, was ignoring him. Refusing to acknowledge his foolishness was the only way to deal with Mister’s mischief-loving heart; the moment you got on his case about something, the colt escalated things to a scale that quickly got dangerous for everyone.

Jenny thought about how much she loved him, and how much she had missed him while she’d been in New York, and how much more she would miss him if she went back for good.

Then her phone buzzed again, breaking the spell, and she pulled it out of her pocket just as her mother came hustling up. “Let’s go, girl. You’re standing in the track like a crazy person,” Andrea commanded. “They’re trying to put a race on, if you haven’t noticed.”

She hit the green button on her phone’s screen, her heart between her boots, suddenly afraid of whatever news was waiting. Yay or nay, go or no go, it was all going to be a disaster for half of her.

“JENNY!” the people in her phone shrieked in a chorus, and her heart rebounded like a balloon freed of its string, soaring up into the endless blue of the Florida sky.

“GUYS!” she yelled back. “HOW DID IT GO?”

***

Stay tuned for another preview next week… or order your copy now!

Amazon Kindle and paperback release date: November 26

Add it on GoodReads!

Perfect Horse-Lover’s Gifts: Autographed Books with Free Shipping!

It’s mid-November, time to start thinking about holiday gifts! If you’re shopping for a horse-lover this holiday season, a horse book is the perfect gift. Riding instructors, barn managers, grooms, your barn BFF, that hard-working student who eats, breathes, and sleeps horses: I’ve got the perfect book for all of them.

This Week in Walt Disney World Weather — June 9, 2019

For the rest of November, I have a limited number of paperbacks available for just $12 each, shipping included! Choose from some of my best-loved titles, including Ambition and Turning for Home, by November 30th, and get a signed copy for your favorite horse-lover… or yourself!

Available Titles

  • Ambition
  • Pride
  • Courage
  • Show Barn Blues
  • The Head and Not The Heart
  • Other People’s Horses
  • Turning for Home

All books can be inscribed to a special someone along with my signature and a short message!

Books will be shipped using Media Mail to the continental U.S. between December 2-4, 2019.

There is an extremely limited number of books available for this sale. If you have your heart set on a certain title, get in touch as soon as possible.

To order: send your request to me at my email address: natalie @ nataliekreinert.com (remove the spaces). Payment via Venmo, PayPal or Cash is accepted. Payments must be processed before shipping.

Not sure which book to send? Check out my equestrian fiction here to learn more.

First Read: The Hidden Horses of New York

Have you heard the news? My newest equestrian novel, The Hidden Horses of New York, is now available for pre-sale on Amazon! If you’re waiting for the paperback, you can order it along with the Kindle edition’s download date on November 26, 2019. I’m thrilled to share this story of friendship, the equestrian community, equine welfare and yes, a little romance with you. To get you started, here are the first thousand words of The Hidden Horses of New York.

Hidden Horses of New York release graphic

Click here to order your copy!

Jenny jiggled the lead-shank to distract the three-year-old colt tugging at the other end, and tried to ignore the phone buzzing in her back pocket. Her mother’s gaze, sharp and unforgiving, caught hers from across the saddling ring, and Jenny felt the force of her warning: don’t touch that phone while you’ve got hold of a horse. It was one of Andrea Wolfe’s most ferociously-enforced rules. Once, she had taken a rider’s phone right out of his hands and thrown it with the power and grace of a pitcher. The phone had landed in the cattail-choked drainage ditch running along the inside of Sugar Creek Farm’s training track and was never seen again.

“Settle,” Jenny hissed at the colt, who rolled one wild eyeball at her and flared his nostrils, tossing his head towards her face. For an instant her vision was a blur of black skin, ringed inside with red. The colt’s sleek coat was graying out slowly, his neck and body spangled with white-ringed dapples and his mane a cloud of black. Jenny remembered when he’d been born, a fox-colored colt blinking owlishly through spectacles of pale hair, a dead giveaway that this pretty little chestnut would grow up to be a gray.

Jenny jerked back to the present and gave the lead-shank in her hands a tug to remind him not to get so personal. The colt straightened out and they kept on walking in their tight circles, using every inch of the space they’d been allotted. The walking ring of Tampa Bay Downs was tight; the little crowd of spectators pressing in so closely that Jenny was sometimes afraid even the rail keeping them back from the horses was still not far enough away to protect them from a kick. As a rule, hot-blooded young Thoroughbreds were not malicious. But they were in a hurry to get moving, and indiscriminate with where their flying hooves ended up.

Jenny’s phone was buzzing again, furiously rattling against the thin chest pocket on the flowing blue blouse she’d paired with her race-day khakis. She desperately wanted to answer it, wanted to see her friends’ silly faces and hear their stupid voices so much, and she was crazy to find out what had happened with their final presentation, if Professor Mulvaney thought their idea was any good or if they were just a bunch of idealistic kids (which Jenny did not think was a bad thing, not yet). They needed his buy-in if they were going to get anywhere. Lana’s father had been determined on that point. He wasn’t giving them a dime otherwise.

The loudspeakers crackled as if they were clearing their metallic throats, and then the feed from the track’s resident commentator took over the sound of jingling metal and thudding hooves. He was standing near the paddock with his back to the horses, a small burly man in a three-piece suit that strained at the arms, wraparound sunglasses and gel-stiffened blonde hair competing with his swirling tribal neck tattoos for attention. Jenny always thought he looked like a cross between a professional skateboarder and Guy Fieri. He spoke, with a thick Long Island accent, about past performances and speed figures and jockey win percentages. When he got to Mr. November, he just said: “this one is the favorite for a reason, but if you want to beat him, try the three and the six,” and then continued on with the next horse.

Jenny ran a hand along Mister’s hot neck. They weren’t going to beat him—not the three, not the six, not any of the other horses circling the paddock. His dark eye met hers, and suddenly Jenny forgot about her phone, and the conversation she was missing in New York right now. This happened before every race. Jenny would live entirely in the moment for the next fifteen minutes: the moment she handed Mister off to the outrider, the moment she caught him after his race, the moment she led him into the winner’s circle.

Today was Mister’s day.

She smiled at him, the sounds of the horseplayers dissipating around her.

Then he ducked his chin backwards and tried to bite her, his eyes bright with mischief, and she was wrenched back to reality. “No,” she huffed. “You’re bad. Don’t do it again!”

Mister pushed hard against the bit in his mouth, grinding his teeth. The movement tugged at her joints, made her wince as she pulled back. He was so ready, so painfully ready. Why wasn’t it time to mount up yet? She looked to the center of the ring. Her mother was there, talking to the jockey, a slim-hipped young man who was having a very good year. It had been easy to convince him to ride Mister in the colt’s first big stakes challenge. Everyone knew the colt was peaking. No one knew it better than Jenny. Because while the line for owner was always filled in with “Sugar Creek Farm,” Mr. November’s real owner had always been Jenny Wolfe. He was the last good thing she’d done before she’d gone away to school, and the one good thing she’d returned for, over and over again. Bred by Jenny, foaled by Jenny, halter-broke by Jenny, started under saddle by Jenny. She’d done it all over winter holidays, spring breaks, summer vacations, and long weekends. She’d hurried home from a cold, snowy New York to a warm March evening when his birth seemed imminent, despite her mother’s tired reminders that there was no telling when the mare might actually foal. And early that morning, as a storm blew through the open rafters overhead, her colt had been born.

The new foal had blinked at her from his damp bed of straw and then promptly bit her, all gums and tiny milk teeth closed tight on her hand, and Jenny had laughed and told him, “you’re the one, you’re my Mister November,” and he’d been Mister every day since then.

Jenny’s mother had disapproved of naming a wobbling newborn colt for a race three and a half years (and a solid mountain of luck) away. “There are thirty-six foals due on this farm alone, thousands all around Ocala, and you’re pinning all of your Breeders’ Cup hopes on this one?”

But Mister was Jenny’s hope, not the farm’s hope or her mother’s hope. And she thought Mr. November was a fine name for a colt she planned to point at the world racing championships, held in November each year. “Plus he looks like a Mister,” Jenny added. “With those little spectacles of his.”

“Those will be gone in two months,” her mother snorted, but she left it alone after that.

Three years ago, Jenny thought, her hand still on the taut muscles running along Mister’s arching neck. Three years ago, he’d stood no higher than her waist. And now he was this big beast, this monstrous colt with muscles toned into the airstream lines of an Art Deco locomotive, coat spangled with white stars like the iron-gray sky the morning before a hurricane, taut skin and flowing raven mane and dark, intelligent eyes that landed on Jenny the moment she entered his field of vision and never left her until she was gone again, back to wherever Jenny went when she left Mister behind.

“Riders up!” the ring steward called, raising his clipboard in the air like a ceremonial flag. As if released from taut strings, the jockeys and trainers dispersed in every direction, flowing toward their mounts in a wave of bright pageantry.

Want to read more? Get the rest of the first chapter – just email me here: natalie @ nataliekreinert.com (remove the spaces). I’ll send you the entire first chapter of The Hidden Horses of New York as a sneak peek!

Ready to order? Get your copy at Amazon!

The Hidden Horses of New York book cover

 

New Book Release: The Hidden Horses of New York

Friends, I’m so excited about today’s news!

I’ve officially given The Hidden Horses of New York its publication date of November 26, 2019, and I just can’t wait to share it with you. This book means the world to me.

The Hidden Horses of New York, publishing November 26, 2019

Last year, I was brooding about my “millennial horse racing story” that I wanted to write. I knew I wanted to tell the story of a band of friends who were young, idealistic, and wanted to change horse racing for the better. They were going to do it through social media and the internet. And that’s… that’s all I knew.

It took more than a year to pull together the concept that became The Hidden Horses of New York. It took more than three beginnings (all of them beautiful, in my opinion) in three different voices and multiple points of view. It went from being a multi-POV to a single narrator, but one thing that didn’t change: the main character, Jenny.

Jenny is young, idealistic, shy, ambitious. A horsewoman who ran away from her horsey home to see what else she could be. Who fell in love with New York and the friends she made there. Who found a way, against all odds, to remain an equestrian in the greatest city in the world.

Who was hopelessly in love with her best friend.

I adore Jenny, and walking in her shoes to write this story has been such an emotional ride. I’ve cried, I’ve felt the wind against my cheeks, I’ve nestled down under a soft blanket in her chilly apartment. I have felt at one with Jenny more than any other character I’ve ever written. I know everything about her, I know the pictures hanging on the walls of her childhood bedroom, I know the books on her coffee table, I know the cereal boxes in her kitchen cabinet.

Those who know me will read this book and know I’ve shared some of my most remarkable life experiences with Jenny, and that’s not a gift I share lightly. I’ve jealously guarded some of these storylines, waiting for the right moment to give them up to the world. I believe I’ve found that moment.

And the cover! Oh, the agonies over this cover, friends. I wanted Jenny’s story to stand apart. I am proud of my book covers, but I needed something different for this one. I worked for days until I had a concept, then I realized I didn’t have the technical know-how to bring it to life.

Enter How Bowers, a wonderful friend who offered his time to turn my dream into a reality. And look at the beauty he has created! I’m so, so thankful for his expertise and dedication to my concept.

The Hidden Horses of New York book cover

This is the story idea, in a few words, for the book:

Jenny’s a horsewoman, born and bred. Aidan’s a photographer, with a passion for sleek thoroughbreds. Lana has business brains and start-up cash. Together, they’re going to bring horse racing’s best stories to life. Best friends working on a passion project together: it could be the perfect post-grad life in New York City… if only Jenny weren’t hopelessly in love with Aidan.

Unrequited love aside, Jenny might be in over her head. It’s not an easy task to get old-fashioned trainers to open up to her, but Jenny’s determined to get her story. Then, as she digs deep in search of a missing horse, Jenny tumbles into a dark underworld she’d thought was just a fairy tale.

In the pursuit of horse racing’s happy endings, to say nothing of her own, Jenny will find herself tested again and again. A colt’s bid for a Breeders’ Cup championship, a racehorse with no name, a charming police mount on Amsterdam Avenue, a carriage horse clattering through Central Park: the horses of New York are clamoring to have their stories told. Jenny just has to find the words, and the courage, to give them a voice.

There’s a lot more to this story than what I could wedge in >200 words, but here we are.

And here we go.

I’m so thrilled to share The Hidden Horses of New York with you. I only hope you love it as much as I do.

Pre-order here, and share this link with your horsey friends: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZS5P1JJ/

 

Ordering Signed Books from Natalie Keller Reinert

As the holiday season approaches, I frequently get requests for signed books. Makes sense! Signed books make amazing Christmas presents. My unique equestrian fiction novels in particular are perfect for riding instructors, barn owners and farm managers, trainers and coaches, horse show moms and basically anyone else who loves horses. Or books. You get the idea.

It’s always hard for me to fulfill late-season signing requests so I’m really excited that this year the amazing Taborton Equine Books are going to handle some of that for me!

Equine Affaire book signing 2018

Signing mountains of books at Equine Affaire 2018!

In conjunction with our Equine Affaire book-signing (in W. Springfield, MA on November 8-9, 2019), signed books are now available to order online, directly from the bookseller. I’ll sign your book at the event — you’ll get the book in the mail afterwards!

So whether you just want a signed copy of Ambition for your bookshelf, or your working student is going to squee when she gets a copy of Horses of Wonderland for Christmas, right now is the perfect time to get your signed book ordered!

As for me, I’ll be icing my hand in between signings at the Equine Affaire table. Between the in-person demand and the online orders, I am going to have a lot of books to sign!

Get your books signed by me (and ten other authors) at Taborton Equine Books’ 2019 Signed Books page.

Here’s everyone who will be attending the Equine Affaire book-signing event, by the way!

equine affaire book signing 2019

Equine Affaire 2019 in W. Springfield, MA!

Riding Life: Ben and the Tortoise

I haven’t written about my riding in a hot minute, and since that’s where my blogging (and fiction) days began, I thought: today’s ride definitely deserves a blog post. You see, everything looked so promising. Everything started out so well.

And then, Florida happened.

THE TALE OF THE TORTOISE AND THE BEN

At my old farm out in swamp country, I had an issue with alligators. Well, one alligator. He (gender assumed but not determined for convenience’s sake) was about four and half feet long, enjoyed long swims in the pond at the back of my property, and had reflective eyes which were handy for late-night horse feeding. We just always remembered to swing a flashlight around and check for the gator’s presence before we went into the back pasture to dump grain.

Then the alligator discovered my round pen, which was only about twenty feet from the pond, was the perfect place for midday sunbathing.

Really annoying.

Nowadays I ride at a farm in hilly country. There isn’t a pond, so there isn’t an alligator. But since I ride Ben in a bright, sunny field adjacent to un-mown hay fields and half-wooded cow pastures, I have other animals I have to deal with.

Ben in a big hay field

Looking across the hay fields from the mown area where we ride. There is a lot of animal life out there.

Ben is a very alert pony. He likes to keep his eye on things — there’s very much a protect-the-herd instinct going on in between those pricked ears of his. He watches people walking around the farm while we’re riding, and he has a decent spook when something really surprises him, but he’s not as likely to run away from something as to stop and stare at it, maybe edge closer to it for a better look.

Think of a little kid poking something dead with a stick, then leaping backwards when it moves a little bit, then coming back to poke it again… that’s Ben.

At first we had an issue with grass snakes spooking him, but I kept riding him towards the little buggers and he decided that was fun, so now he just looks at snakes and doesn’t flip out about them. The tortoise problem… well, that’s been harder to solve.

If the best way to desensitize a horse is to ride them right up to whatever is alarming them and let them take a good look, it’s almost impossible to desensitize a horse to a gopher tortoise. These are big dry-land, burrowing tortoises who can move at a decent clip. They have beige-to-brown shells which aren’t shiny, but stand out against green grass. And because they have a sort of shambling, two-beat walk, they move a bit like, well, spiders?

So you have this thing that looks like a rounded rock, moves like a spider, and goes barreling across the field. If you can convince your horse to go take a look at it, the tortoise retreats into his shell. It’s just a rock. The horse forgets about it. You ride away. The rock-spider-demon comes back to life. The horse sees this in his rear-view mirror and freaks the eff out. IT IS MOVING! IT WASN’T MOVING BEFORE!

You ride back, to show the horse the moving rock. Only now it stops moving again. The horse loses interest.

Guys, you can do this ALL DAMN DAY, but the tortoise will always thwart your efforts.

It’s a problem.

So today I take Ben out to ride and I see that there is a tortoise in the very middle of the field. I sigh. I cannot chase the tortoise out of the field, for reasons previously mentioned. So I take Ben over to a hill and we do a little hill-work while I wait for the tortoise to get through the field.

This takes ages because the tortoise is not in a hurry, but finally he’s at the end of the field near his burrow and I say, fine, Ben, let’s go do some work.

Now, a lot of the work I do with Ben is concentrated on getting him to be cool and focused, because I want children to be happy to ride him (he is a large pony, after all). So we do a lot of walking work – about fifteen minutes most days – before we even begin trotwork.

Today the BLOODY TORTOISE is hovering near his burrow, which is under a bush at the end of the field, and doesn’t want to go in. And just as I want to start trotting, Ben sees the tortoise.

He does a little half-rear before I catch him, then I push him forward towards the tortoise while he watches, snorting. I let him come to a halt so he can have a good look.

The tortoise gazes at us. He is literally right outside his burrow. Two steps, and he could be underground and out of our hair. But no, he wants to stare us down.

“GET BACK IN YOUR HOLE YOU STUPID TORTOISE!” I command, with some expletives for extra emphasis, but the tortoise is unimpressed.

Ben has his head up and his ears pricked but he’s not freaking out, so I send him forward. Let’s chase the tortoise into the hole! He can’t possibly resist going into his burrow if we’re bearing down on him like a one-horse cavalry charge, right?

Right.. eventually, but that tortoise makes us get really close before he scurries underground. Ben is huffing. I am annoyed. It’s going to take me another five or ten minutes to bring him back down to earth and get a relaxed walk again. I turn Ben away and we do a circuit of the field.

As we turn at the top of the field, I realize the tortoise HAS COME BACK OUT OF THE BURROW.

“Oh, no, you don’t! Let’s get him, Ben!” I send Ben forward and we chase the tortoise back underground. Ben finds all of this tortoise-chasing exhilarating and is now looking for other scary things to chase. Maybe there is something scary in the woods! LET’S STARE AT THE WOODS! Maybe there is something scary at the house! OH GOD A PERSON HAS COME OUT OF THE HOUSE! SHIT, WHAT DO WE DO?

“Jesus Christ, Ben,” I say, again along with some other expletives for extra emphasis.

It keeps happening. Apparently the tortoise was only making a quick house-call, not retreating to safety, and now I cannot keep the stupid animal out of my field. I just want twenty minutes to do some trotting and get Ben to relax into the bridle, but the tortoise comes out and cuts across the bottom half of the field, then proceeds to start grazing. I cannot chase him now; he’s too far from the burrow and he’ll just go into his shell if we get near him. Ben is mostly unbothered; he doesn’t see him, but I’ve lost half my riding space.

Another ten minutes goes by before the tortoise has ambled with its awful spider shamble into the high grass of the hay field and I finally have my riding area back.

But Ben doesn’t know the tortoise has gone off on a nature walk. He keeps looking at the burrow at the edge of the field. IF IT COMES BACK OUT, I, BEN, WILL BE READY!

“It’s not coming back.”

THAT’S WHAT IT WANTS YOU TO THINK!

He never really got over his desire to trample the tortoise. We did some nice trotting, some lateral work and some canter circles, and even jumped a few cross-rails, but he was always keeping an eye on that burrow. There was nothing fearful about his attitude. He just didn’t want to miss his chance. He had a taste of tortoise-chasing and by god, he wanted more.

Ben grazing

“If that tortoise comes out, I will find him and I will stomp him.”

Even after I turned him out, an hour later, he was on high alert, looking all around the pasture as if tortoises were hiding in the tree branches, waiting for him to drop his guard.

I love Ben’s hilarious macho man antics, his bantam rooster approach to life. He’s fun to ride and work with for exactly that reason. There’s so much of Ben. He’s the embodiment of that old classified ad verbiage, “personality plus.”

I’m just really, really glad this farm doesn’t have a pond. because I don’t need him to start thinking he can chase away gators.

 

Fall Comes to Florida

October is here! I love October. I’ve never liked September, not for a single moment, but October is lovely and I’m here to tell you why.

First, October is when fall comes to Florida. How can you tell it’s fall? The light, for one thing, and that’s not the bit I like–I love the bright, white light of summer. The shifting light of September makes me think of short days and long nights and school starting (I have almost no good memories of school, so anything I associate with going back to school is a negative). But the light’s an indicator that the weather is changing–the steeper sun angle means less humidity, fewer afternoon thunderstorms, and, best of all, cooler nights.

horse hiding behind a tree

Ben hides behind a tree as the golden October sunset approaches.

Oh, those cooler nights! I don’t remember summer nights in the 80s when I was a kid, but I grew up along the coast, and now I live inland, and it gets so hot here. Orlando summer nights stick in the 80s and you just want to melt. Honestly, I should not want a shower after walking my dog at ten o’clock at night. But here we are… and then October comes, and the temperature drops into the 60s at night, and it’s magical.

Then there’s the breeze. Here’s a fun thing about Florida: every season is breezy except for summer. In summer, we sit and wait for the sea breeze to make it inland… with mixed results. Sometimes in late September, the breeze picks up something fierce, and it sticks around for the most part until April.

When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike everywhere. We lived on a grid; our street went east/west and so did plenty of my friends’ streets. One night I was playing Trivial Pursuit with my parents. The question was about the equinox: when are the equinoxes, or something to that effect. I was maybe eight or nine, I didn’t know what the word equinox meant. But the months April and September stuck out to me. It was always so windy in those months!

I guessed; I was right; there was general wonderment. I explained that it was extremely hard to ride my bike in April and September because of the wind. Maybe the wind was the equinox, I reasoned.

I don’t know if the wind is directly or indirectly related to the equinox, but it’s definitely when the weather starts to shift towards or away from our summer rainy season.

And while I miss the rainy season, when I have a horse to ride, I can celebrate the beginning of riding season! It’s surprisingly pleasant to ride a horse on a 90-degree day when the humidity is only 60% instead of 85% (with that lovely breeze, of course). This part might be hard to explain to out-of-staters, but you’ll have to trust me on this.

I can bump my rides up from thirty minutes to sixty minutes. I can ride any time of day, with plenty of walking breaks, instead of only before ten a.m. or only after six p.m. I am almost never racing lightning bolts back to the barn. I don’t have to give a bath with plenty of tea tree oil mixed into the shampoo after every single ride, because when the rain goes away, so do the tiny flies and the skin bacteria issues.

Riding a horse at sunset

Riding into the fall sunset.

Oh, fall is a magical time in Florida!

Now don’t get me wrong: there are drawbacks. I miss the lightning and the thunder and the tropical downpours and the towering clouds and the singing frogs–I miss them something fierce. I have already mentioned that the slanting fall light makes me feel the opposite of nostalgic. And all that wind? Well, have you ridden a horse on a windy day? Enough said.

But all of that aside, I’m glad it’s fall. I’m ready for our first cold front, our first chilly night, the first day I get to wear jeans. I’m excited for all the riding I’m going to fit in, and the running too, because I’ve only been running once or twice a week over the summer.

When I was a kid, rainy season seemed to last half the year. Now I know it’s only four and a half months in a good year, and it was only three months this year, thanks to weird hurricane activity. It’s weird to imagine that we’re months and months away from storm season and summer, from the big glowing clouds and the sizzling sounds of cicadas in the trees and the late-night croaks of frogsong. When I think of Florida, when I’m far away, those are the pieces my mind conjures up.

But really, most of the year in Florida is just like October: golden days, blue skies, a steady breeze, and a hot, hot sun.

It’s not a bad place to call home.

But Florida doesn’t have much by way of fall leaves, so I go up north for that. I’ll be in Massachusetts next month for Equine Affaire in West Springfield! I go just about every year and hang out with my good friends at Taborton Equine Books. Come see me on either Friday or Saturday — I’d love to chat, get to know you, sign your books, or maybe help you find your next great read!

Find out more and RSVP at Facebook!