Watching bridleless riding is always breathtaking to me. The sight of a horse who is working so diligently in tandem with his rider; a horse who is not being manipulated in any way, shape, or form through pain, leverage, or threat (imagined or real) never fails to bring tears to my eyes.
What can I say, horses make me cry.
I stumbled upon this video of David and Karen O’Connor riding bridleless, apparently at a Pat Parelli clinic some years ago, and was instantly moved. And not just because I have a thing for smooth jazz.
(But I totally do!)
I have my own opinions of clinicians who patent gadgetry to sell to the masses, but there is no denying the horsemanship of the O’Connors.
As I wrap a few final edits on my eventing novel, Ambition, I’ll be thinking about the beauty and partnership I see between the O’Connors and their horses.
Spring was a long time coming this year, especially considering the epic snowfall and deep freeze we had to deal with. As a Floridian, naturally, I have not been amused.
It’s still cold somehow — how is it almost May and it’s still cold? — but the trees finally sighed and gave in, making for some beautiful bursts of color in an otherwise concrete-gray world.
The grass has barely started to grow back in after its winter under snowpack and ice, and the non-flowering trees, the sycamores and the London Planes and the pin-oaks and the like, are steadfastly refusing to turn green. But the cherry, pear, and another broad-petaled pink flower (apparently it’s a form of magnolia?) are exuberant, toasting this just-above-freezing weather we are expected to call spring.
The flowers were actually out well before the trees. First, of course, came the crocuses. These little fellows were springing from the tree-pit of a very uninterested linden tree above it. They were followed by the more ostentatious daffodils and tulips and hyacinths. When I was a little girl I loved all three of those flowers. Now I’m not so interested in them. But a snowdrop is always a delight.
It can’t help but lift one’s spirits, even while one snuggles deeper into one’s winter coat. I think there is at least a possibility that we will have one or two warm days before September and the whole freezing process starts over again.
A chance, right?
I’ll be under the covers in the meantime. Someone alert The Weather Channel: let me know when it goes above 70 degrees in New York City, okay?
Recently, tragedy struck twice at an event. Two horses died at The Fork, an upper-level event in South Carolina. Conair following an accident on the cross-country course; Powderhound following his show-jumping round.
Immediately after each horses’ death was announced, social media (generally Facebook, although I’m sure Twitter got involved) was abuzz. Mass messages of sympathy were intermingled with questions about how these deaths could have happened. And admittedly, neither was straightforward: Conair reportedly got up and galloped around after his fall; he collapsed and died after a preliminary vet exam. Powderhound collapsed and died after his show-jumping round, narrowly avoiding injuring his rider.
It looked weird. It looked scary. And people had questions.
An urge to twitch back the blinds and make sure their own horses were safe.
As things will do, of course, sympathy and fear divided into factions. Familiar ones, in Eventing: the Long Format vs the Short Format.
Simply put, Short Format Eventing is the current version of the Three Day Event, which does away with the massive endurance requirement once required. It places a greater emphasis on dressage and a more technical cross-country course.
Long Format proponents don’t need much to start talking about Long Format, anyway, so it was only to be expected that this would renew the debate. Questions like: Are the horses still fit enough to compete at high speeds? Are the courses asking the horses questions with solid fences that should only be asked with movable jump poles?
Short Format replies tended to be more succinct: now is not the time to bring this up.
I understand that the Eventing community is close-knit, and that when one horse dies, many horsemen grieve. That’s the way it should be. That’s how communities work.
But here’s what I want to say: it’s okay to ask questions, and it’s going to be done in public, on social media, because that is where people ask questions these days. There isn’t going to be an official period of discreet social media silence. And there shouldn’t be, because in this short-term-memory society, if an incident isn’t discussed within a fairly immediate time period, it won’t be discussed at all. It will be buried by the next story, for better or for worse.
It’s not okay to lay blame, or make assertions without proof, or tout oneself as an expert when one is not, or lay claim to a death as a symbolic martyr of a cause.
But it is okay to ask questions.
Questions, well-worded ones anyway, can lead to conversation amongst people who care about the problem. Conversation amongst people who care about the problem can lead to the answers… sometimes, the answers to questions far removed from the original one.
We should always be asking questions, and exploring the issues that concern us, or hell, scare us. A horse drops dead under a rider — that’s scary. Could it happen to you? Could it happen to me? We need to talk about this. Let’s discuss conditioning techniques. Discuss feeding practices. Share ideas. Share best practices. This, a time of worry and crisis and personal doubt, is when we are most likely to come together and share, instead of hiding away our fears (from shame) and our secrets (with jealousy).
Here’s how I see it: analyzing our own practices is good.
Coming together and sharing ideas is good.
Sometimes it takes a tragic event to start conversations about our own lives.
This argument has absolutely zero to do with making assumptions about the deaths of Conair and Powderhound. It has nothing to do with changing Short Format to Long Format. It’s not a statement about whether the comments section of an article announcing a tragedy is the right place to question the cause. It’s simply about the power crisis holds, that it can inspire us to examine our own practices and to talk more frankly with one another about our thoughts and fears.
We had an amazing opportunity yesterday — to see the Mini Kelpies, which are two 1/10 size maquettes of the full-size Kelpies statues in Scotland. In case you’re not familiar with The Kelpies, they are these giant horse-heads:
Having never seen the full-size Kelpies, I can’t say with absolute certainty that they were no less dramatic in miniature form… but there’s no doubt that the mini Kelpies, set before Bryant Park’s staircase beneath the skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan, were incredibly striking. Maybe even goosebump-inducing. They were utterly fantastic.
I wish the Kelpies always lived in NYC. I would visit them every week… even if that meant slogging into Manhattan! There is just something about them — something that conveys the fierce power of a horse — which is amazing considering the medium, strips of shiny metal. They still have every bit of the expression and character of the original horses who modeled for them — two Clydesdales, as a matter of fact.
The Kelpies will be at Bryant Park until mid-April, according to their website. Bryant Park is behind the New York City Public Library, at 6th Avenue and 42nd St. Very easy to get to, so if you are traveling to the city, be sure to hustle over there and see them. (Pro-tip: Bryant Park has gorgeous public restrooms, something that isn’t easy to find in Manhattan.)
Later that afternoon, wandering our home borough of Brooklyn and desperate to soak up every last drop of sunlight and every moment of semi-warm air before winter settled in again, we found ourselves in DUMBO, walking towards Brooklyn Bridge Park…
In the distance behind Calvin you can see the glass structure around Jane’s Carousel. This beautiful historic carousel was inundated with water during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It’s since been fully restored. We stopped by to take a glance but since it was the first warm day of the year, every prancing steed was taken! Another time. When New Yorkers aren’t quite so excited about taking off their coats and feeling a little warm sun on their faces!
Although after this winter, it’s hard to imagine that we’d be able to take warmth for granted again. I know we will, but… it’s been pretty rough.
Of course, cold weather means writing weather. I’m working on the revisions of my upcoming novel, Ambition, and you can read snippets and teases of it at my Facebook page, Natalie Keller Reinert: Horse Books for Grown-Ups. I’ll be posting more and more, along with photos and inspiration for the people, places, and horses in the book, as I get closer to a publication date. I am really excited about this book, which has taken several years to get to this point, the actual “Let’s publish this thing!” stage.
For a girl writing about racehorses, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Yesterday, Castleton Lyons, home of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, announced the eight semi-finalists for the 2013 competition. This unique award celebrates one common theme in full-length literary works: the racehorse.
Imagine my delightI was thrilled to see I FREAKED OUT AND NEARLY HAD A HEART ATTACK when I saw my own Other People’s Horses on the list, the lone novel amongst racing histories, memoirs, and biographies.
There are no words for my appreciation for not just the nomination, but all the readers who encouraged me, left me nice reviews at Amazon and GoodReads, sent me emails to let me know they liked the books, and have generally clamored for me to continue writing about horses and the people who love them. I never would have dared enter this competition without you and your support!
Thank you for telling me that Other People’s Horses means something to you!
I promise there is more to come.
If you haven’t read Other People’s Horses, I still love you. Go to my Facebook page for a coupon code for 20% off the paperback at the CreateSpace store, good now through March 31st.
And with that, here is the press release for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Awards semi-finalists. Have you read any of the other books? Tell us about them in the comments!
2013 Dr. Ryan semi-finalists exceptional group
The 2013 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award competition has drawn the strongest slate of semi-finalists in its eight year history to date, an impressive assortment of well-penned histories, fiction, biography, and autobiographies—both human and equine. In the end, the underdog theme ruled the day in this cycle of uniquely award-worthy entries.
Launched in 2006 by the late Dr. Ryan, the award, worth $10,000 to the winner, was the industry’s first to honor full-length literary work focusing on racing. Dr. Ryan loved good writing as much as he loved a good Thoroughbred, and thus placed few parameters on his concept other than skill with the written word.
Three 2013 finalists will be revealed via press release on March 17 (see: http://www.castletonlyons.com/). The winner will be announced during an invitation-only reception at the Ryan family’s historic Castleton Lyons farm near Lexington on April 9.
Book Award Semifinalists:
Battleship: A Daring Heiress, A Teenage Jockey, and America’s Horse
Author: Dorothy Ours
A character-driven work based in the early decades of the 20th century. Battleship centers on enigmatic Marion DuPont of the famed chemical manufacturing family … her battles against the gender limitations of her time, her marriage to a Hollywood movie star, and most importantly, her undying love for horses—most specifically her faith in a pint-sized son of Man o’ War, who, in 1938, packed her colors to victory in the world’s most heart-testing race: England’s Grand National Steeplechase.
Casual Lies: A Triple Crown Adventure
Author: Shelley Lee Riley
The feel-good narrative of a woman trainer who sees potential in a small, nondescript bay colt and runs with it—literally—parlaying a meager $7,500 purchase price into $795,991 in career earnings. Under the name Casual Lies, the colt took Shelley Riley on the ride of a lifetime, winning in graded company and, more importantly, placing in both the 1992 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Foinavon: The Story of the Grand National’s Biggest Upset
Author: David Owen
Another with the Grand National as a backdrop, this one provides an account of the 1967 renewal, unimaginably upset by the 100-to-1 title character, Foinavon. Owen details how the winner and his companion, a white nanny goat named Susie, thereafter charmed the British masses as they traveled the country on a “victory tour,” while reminding one and all of the true meaning and glory of the Grand National itself.
Jack: From Grit to Glory
Author: Chris Kotulak
The story of a living American legend, told via anecdotal material, interviews of those who know him best, and through memories from the man himself. The down-to-earth Nebraskan is a Hall of Fame horseman and himself the son of a Hall of Fame trainer; and in the course of his nearly 60 years—and counting—on the track, Van Berg has remarkably developed both racehorses and other trainers of Hall of Fame caliber.
Other People’s Horses
Author: Natalie Keller Reinert
The only fiction entry among the finalists, this one brings back a pair of married trainers, Alex and Alexander, from 2012’s Head and Not the Heart. In this one, the husband is abroad on family business, leaving Alex at Saratoga running the stable, battling sexism, dealing with a naïve assistant, and falling hard for a crazy filly she thinks she can fix.
Ride the White Horse: A Checkered Jockey’s Story of Racing, Rage, and Redemption
Author: Eddie Donnally
Gut-wrenching autobiography of a jockey on a road straight to hell, replete with race-fixing schemes, batteries, and squandered dreams. Stalked by alcoholism, drug and sex-addiction, and mental illness, we follow Donnally’s life as it descends from nascent talent into hopelessness, homelessness, and total despair. Donnally’s gritty mea culpa of a life not well lived may be a tough read, but is ultimately, one of hope and redemption.
I’m so pleased to announce that my historical romance series, Heroines on Horseback, are now available in new editions and under my name. Previously published under the pen name Sydney Alexander, these three novels are particular favorites of mine, and I’m looking forward to sharing them with my readers. Each feature unique men and women who draw strength from their relationship with horses.
Book 1, Miss Spencer Rides Astride, is a fun Regency-period romance set in a hunting yard in Ireland. William Archer is on the run from an arranged marriage back in London. Grainne Spencer is trying to make sure her father doesn’t remember she’s a female who ought to be in dresses, not stomping around the yard in boots and breeches. Both of them seem prone to really, really short-sighted decisions. More a short novel than a full-length, Miss Spencer has received some excellent reviews and is just chock-full of horses.
Book 2, The Honorable Nobody, was originally Book 3. But it makes more sense to fit it in right after Miss Spencer. That’s because the Honorable Nobody in question is Peregrin Fawkes, William Archer’s closest friend — and raging racehorse enthusiast. All Peregrin wants is to succeed as a racehorse trainer. But when he scoops Miss Lydia Dean out of danger before London soiree, his goalposts start to move. And Lydia, who minutes before thought her heart broken forever, finds herself head over heels in love with her rescuer. Unfortunately, other, wealthier forces are also at play, and also set on marrying Lydia.
Book 3: The Genuine Lady, is a cowboy western. Yes, I wrote a cowboy western historical, and I love it. Cherry Beacham was an English lady… once. With her infant son, she has fled scandal and disgrace in England for a new life in the Dakota Territory. She finds a little town with a big heart ready to welcome her, despite her desire to keep to herself. And she finds a cowboy with a troubled past that she just can’t seem to shake. This book is funny, sweet, and sometimes, a little sad — I just adore these characters!
Each book is available in the Kindle store at Amazon as well as in Nook at Barnes & Noble.com. Look for paperbacks coming soon.
I hope you love these stories as much as I do! They have been a pleasure to write and I look forward to adding more to the series in the future!