Friday, December 21, 2012

Telling a story

When MomToo started writing about me, she didn't know how to write about my time at the hospital. I was there forever, and she couldn't visit me all the time, so it was hard to know what I was doing, besides hanging out in my stall.

She knew I had neighbors in the hospital, and she remembered one. He was a big grey stallion and was in a contraption to keep him from lying down. The hospital people told her he had been injured by the big moving box.

So she made up a story about who he was and what we talked about. She gave him the name of her friend's horse. Her friend's horse is a very special stallion with a very special name.

Here is a sample of what she made up:

* * * * *

My friend Valentin had stopped talking, so I watched the horses down the hill again. I was watching them jump when I heard a familiar noise, so I turned and looked out of my stall door. Auntie Niki and Miss Tina were outside.

Auntie Niki came in first. She patted the side of my neck. “How are you, Snoop?”

“Says on his chart he’s got a little fever,” Miss Tina said as she walked in. I felt her hand touch my hip, then run down my leg. “Cast looks good.”

“They’ve still got him sedated,” Auntie Niki said. “He’s not very chewy.”

I don’t know what sedated meant, but she was right. I didn’t really feel like putting anything in my mouth that wasn’t food. Auntie Niki never let me push my nose against her, but today she did. She scratched my face between my eyes. It felt good.

“It’ll probably be at least a week before he comes home,” Miss Tina said. “I’ll have the guys prep a stall. He’ll have to be on straw until the cast comes off.”

Straw. So that’s what the long, sticky bedding was.

They walked back toward the door. I swung my leg around and faced them.

Miss Tina pointed at my cast. “Poor guy. Hope that doesn’t have to stay on long. I’d hate to have him founder.”

“See you tomorrow, Snoopy,” Auntie Niki said and they left.

“Valentin?” I had questions, and he seemed like a smart horse. I had to call him a couple of times. He was pretty cranky by the time he answered.


“Miss Tina and Auntie Niki said things I don’t understand.”

“What else is new?”

“Nothing’s new. You’ve only been asleep a little while. The horses down the hill are still jumping—”

“Never mind, Snoopy. What didn’t you understand?”

“Auntie Niki said I’d been, um, es-dated.”

“What?” I could hear him shake his mane and snort. “You must mean sedated. It means you were given medicine to make you calm and even sleepy.”

“Oh. And Miss Tina said she hoped I didn’t founder.”

Valentin was very quiet for awhile. Then he spoke. “That is a serious fear, Snoopy. We need to keep the blood flowing in our legs, up to our heart and down to our hooves. If it doesn’t keep flowing and feeding our feet, they begin to hurt. The wall that supports our hoof starts to decay.”

“Then what happens?”

“Eventually the bones fall through the hoof. If you have a human who loves you, they have you put down before that happens. It is excruciating—I’m sorry—it is very painful.”

I thought about Uno. Holly had said his leg was hurting and the bones would soon go down through his hoof. She said there was pain that would heal and there was forever pain. I shared this with Valentin.

 “Could that thing, founder, happen to me?”

He shuffled around in his stall. “It could happen to either of us.”

“But maybe not, right?”

“Right. Maybe not.” He didn’t sound like he believed in maybe.

“Right. It won’t happen to me. Or to you.”

“If you say so.” Valentin chuffed a little. “I’m curious. With a name like My Flashy Investment, how did you get nicknamed Snoopy?”

“I’m not sure. Mom said I was named Snoopy before I was born. She was at a horse show and I was growing in her tummy. MomToo said I was the size of a beagle, whatever that is. Then Auntie Niki started calling me Baby Snoopy. I don’t know why.”

“I don’t get it, either, but it is a good name for you. You are very inquisitive.”

I wasn’t sure what inquisitive meant, so I asked him, “Is Valentin your only name, or do you have more?”

“I believe it is all I need. I am an Andalusian of very old breeding. My sires and dams can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when we were warriors on men’s battlefields. I myself have sired twenty foals and I am only sixteen. I was on my way to visit with another mare when I had my unfortunate accident.”

“You’re such a smart horse. I only know my mom and dad’s names. Oh, and one grandfather.”

“You are a Quarter horse, yes?”


“I hope I am not too impolite, but your breed does not have the kind of history as my own. You were born of this land, which is very young compared to where I come from. I would not expect much history from you. No offense.”

“It’s okay. Mom’s the one who remembers stuff. I forget a lot. She told me I wasn’t an old spirit, like her. My spirit is brand new.”

“For a Quarter horse, your mother is wise. It’s too bad I can’t meet her. Is she still at the place where you were born?”

“Sure. I still live there, too.”

“Amazing! Her human kept you, too?”

“MomToo? Well, sure. She rides me.”

“Snoopy, you are a lucky horse. I myself had passed through two owners by the time I was your age. I’m now on my fourth.”

“Is that bad?”

“No, they have all been nice humans, even if they weren’t always wise. It’s just hard to say goodbye, go to a new home, make new friends. I guess change comes to everyone.”

He was quiet again. I guess he was thinking about everyone he said goodbye to, and I started thinking about Uncle Snowy, and Johnny and Tucker. Uncle Snowy was still in the pen where I used to be, but Johnny went away one day in the moving box, and Tucker went to a horse show with me, then went home with someone else.

I did miss them, but I meet so many new friends, it makes it all okay. Like Valentin. I only understood half of what he was saying, but he had a pretty way of talking.

Soon I heard another kind of noise outside my stall. It sounded like the cart at home, the one that brings my hay. It took forever, but finally I watched a man walk toward my door with something green in his hand. It was a whole flake of hay for me. I hadn’t had anything to eat in forever, since the last time.

I was so hungry, I might have tried to eat the lady in white.

* * * * *

I'm okay with her telling a little story sometimes. For MomToo, it's possible I talked with my neighbor. It's not exactly a lie, if you don't know whether it's true or not. What do you think?

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Next Big Thing


MomToo told me to answer some questions for you about my next big thing. I usually only think of a big thing as getting a lot of carrots or a whole apple, but this is about my book.

What is the working title of your book? From the Horse's Mouth: The Memoir of One Lucky Horse.

Where did the idea come from for the book? MomToo was away for a few days and when she came back, she was all excited. She told me she got an idea while she was at the conference, whatever that is, and she was going to help me write my memoir. I don't know why I'm such a big deal, except that when I was three I was a champion and when I was four I broke my leg. But I got better.

What genre does your book fall under? We're still talking about that. I tried to tell MomToo what to write, but she made a few things up. So a lot of it is true -- I really won shows and broke my leg and chased goats. But some things are kind of, well, not.

Which actors would you chose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Actors? I don't know about them. I don't understand it, but MomToo says she'd like to be played by Diane Lane, and Auntie Niki says she'd like to be played by Anne Hathaway.

When will the book be available? I'm kind of not in charge of that. MomToo says a lady has to come take my picture for the book, and it's still being read by something called beta readers. She's hoping to release it in the spring or summer of next year.

I hope I answered these okay.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Snoopy's friends

We have quite a few horses at the ranch, and some of them ended up in Snoopy's book. One of these horses is Wendy, aka Which Way Wendy. She was bought a long time ago to be a show horse for one of the young girls. After many attempts at many shows, everyone decided that Which Way Wendy knew exactly which way she wanted to go - home and away from horse shows. The girl traded her in for a little mare who liked showing and Wendy became a lesson horse.

Wendy and one of her young students.
She started out as a ruthless teacher, rideable by the more advanced students. Seat in the wrong place? Don't expect her to turn right if your butt's pointing left. Standing in the stirrups and pulling the reins? Try sitting down and saying "ho" if you expect to stop. She was also light-sided and her gait was not smooth, so it was easy to find yourself on a bumpy ride at warp speed if you grabbed her sides with your legs.

Wendy will be 28 in January. She is now one of our beginner horses. Although she still requires her students to put their tushes in the middle of her saddle, she has become more tolerant of wiggly seats. She's used to the pull stop as well as a simple command. But don't get your legs into her. She'll still be off to the races if you squeeze too hard.

At 28, she's in amazing health but she does seem to be getting senile. In her youth, Wendy could be jumpy around loud noises, large trucks, and the ranch's tractor. She is regressing back to that state. As James Thurber put it, she's "jumping at slighter sounds."

We'd love her to stay around well into her thirties. We are also realistic. Every day with her is a gift.

Here's a little excerpt from the book:

Rusty was waiting for me when I got back that day. He was a nice horse, even if he was busy doing something all the time. Wendy would complain about him a lot.

“Why don’t you just settle?” she asked. “Why do you always have to be wandering around, climbing your stall?”

He’d laugh. “Why not? It’s fun, right, Snoopy?”

I didn’t really know if being so busy was fun, since I liked standing still in my stall and was never in the mood to climb up the metal poles. Wendy’s idea was pretty good, that a horse should save their energy. Hilde made me pretty tired every time he gave me a lesson, so I was happy to rest afterward.

“Do not listen to him,” Wendy told me. “He may be a year older than you, but he has always been too active for his own good. He was running circles around his mother when he was only a few hours old. Do you see how big he is? He will wear himself out before he is fifteen.”

“Were you born at the ranch, too, Wendy?”

“No, I was born on another ranch, a long way from here. I wasn’t even born in a stall, but out in the field late one night. My mother was part of a small herd. I grew up surrounded by other foals and mares.”

She was a plain horse with no markings, but the hair on her flank grew in funny squiggles. “Why is your hair so funny there?” I asked her.

“That is a brand. Because different humans owned different horses in the herd, they marked us all so they could tell who owned which ones.”

“Did it hurt?”

“Not really. I was fairly young. The men who did it were efficient, if not very gentle about it. They led me into a small stall, just big enough for my body to fit into. I was nervous, but one of the men rubbed my neck and withers until I felt somewhat calmer. Then I felt a cold pressure on my flank that stung a little. It stayed for a few moments, then went away, and they turned me loose.”

“I don’t remember having that done.” I looked at each side of my body. “I guess I don’t have a brand.”

“No, none of the horses born here have one.” She walked over to her water dish and drank. “You have been coddled.”

“What’s coddled?”

“You are born in warm stalls on soft straw, surrounded by humans to help in case something goes wrong.”

“You say that like any of us has a choice,” Rusty said as he knocked his hoof against the metal.

“None of us has a choice,” Wendy told him. “You simply received more attention than I did. You don’t know what it’s like to be pushed into the cold air, nuzzled into standing and forced to walk through the dark toward a group of fuzzy strangers. And I do not know the feeling of spending days, weeks, months in the sole company of my mother, without being on the constant move.”

“I would have liked that,” Rusty said. “I like to be on the move.”

“I guess I would be happy either way,” I told them. “Since I wouldn’t know any difference.”

“You’re too easy going,” Rusty told me. “Humans are going to expect you to do whatever they want.”

“Well, why not?”

“Why should we? I mean, okay, some days I get along fine with my owner, and with Niki. But if I’m not in the mood to do something, I at least make them give me a good reason to do it.”

“I just figure, if I do what they ask I get to finish and go back to my stall.”

“That’s smart,” Wendy told me.

“That’s stupid,” Rusty said. “You’re such a chump.”

I suppose I should have been mad about being called a chump, but it was okay. Rusty’s brain liked to go as fast as his body. I probably am too easygoing. I just never saw the point in fighting everyone, especially my humans. They were really strict, but they usually played good games.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

It's Carline Christmas Photo Day!

We just celebrated Thanksgiving and you know what that means. It's time for the Carline Christmas Photo Day, held the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This year was no different than any other. We try to get all of the humans and animals in the same general area, while a friend stands by with a camera and clicks away. The hope is that we find one picture with everyone facing forward. Smiles are a bonus.

This year, we added a new member - Lady Spazzleton. She was found wandering around the ranch without tags, microchip, or any indication of a responsible owner. She looks a little like a golden retriever. Maybe not golden... maybe pyrite.

It doesn't really matter how many animals or humans are in the mix. We've got this down to a science, and usually end up with a good Christmas picture within twenty or so attempts.

Here we are, setting up the dogs first.

After I hand them off to Marcus, I rearrange them.

That's better.

Next, Dale steps in and takes one of the dogs, I hand the cat to Marcus and bring in the horses. My dream someday is to hold Frostie and let Dale hold Snoopy.

Like that will ever happen.

We ended up with two pretty good photos. Which one do you like?

We are smiling!

Not all smiling, but facing the camera!

Many thanks to our photographer, our friend Ernest Williams, who rides at the ranch with his wife, Tina. This is what happens when you are at the ranch during Carline Christmas Photo Day - you get roped into being a photographer!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Now the work begins

In hindsight, the writing of a book always seems easier than it was, and Snoopy's story was no exception. Although I wrote it incredibly fast (perhaps because he was telling me what to say?), the editing process was harder and I had to call for professional help.

Now that I have a manuscript, the hard part really starts. I spent a few moments wondering if I should query agents with this book, then realized that I had such a vision for the way this book will look, I would be a nightmare client for anyone who took me on. So Dancing Corgi Press (of whom I'm the CEO, CFO, editor-in-chief, bottle washer, and client) will be publishing Snoopy's tale.

I will be scheduling a photo session with the delightful and talented Lynne Glazer. She took the picture of Frostie and me that I use on many of my promotional materials and social media sites. I want a picture like this:

Only it needs to be better, of course.

I also need to write the jacket blurb. Although I've written the book in Snoopy's voice, I don't know if the jacket should also be in his voice, or in third person. My three go-to comparison books, Black Beauty, War Horse, and The Art of Racing in the Rain, all use third person for the jacket.

Here's the first attempt. I welcome comments.

* * *

Snoopy is an American Quarter horse. When he was three years old, he was a champion. He won the 2007 Trail Futurity, a multi-event contest held over several shows in southern and central California. Both his trainer and his owner had his career mapped out. He was natural show horse.

Then in the spring of 2008 he broke his left hind sesamoid, a small bone in the leg that can mean anything from surgery to euthanasia for a horse. The doctor recommended surgery and said Snoopy should be back to work in six months.

Two years later, he finally was.

This is Snoopy's story, told from his view, in his voice. The story of a young horse who was at the top of his game, only to be sidelined by injury. He tells the tale of his fight to return to the show arena, to prove he’s the same horse he always was, only different.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What have I done?

After I finished writing Snoopy's book, I did my best to edit it, meaning I looked for all my normal over-used words (apparently I use apparently a lot), I read it aloud, and I read it into my digital voice recorder and played it back.

And I still didn't know what I had written. On the plus side, I had somehow organically managed to make his injury the exact middle of the book, so the arc was right where I wanted it. On the minus side, there was so much I wasn't sure of. Was it too detailed? Not detailed enough? Would non-horsey people understand it? Would horsey people be bored? Did the pacing work? Was Snoopy someone you learned to care about?

With my fiction, this is where I turn it over to beta readers, but this is kind of non-fiction fiction, and it's close to my heart, closer than I suspected when I started writing it.

Enter a friend of mine who is also an editor, Jennifer Silva Redmond. Last February, I was in her workshop (co-taught by the fabulous Marla Miller) when I pitched my idea for Snoopy's memoir -- "A young horse tells his story of becoming a champion, breaking his leg, then fighting to return to the show arena to prove he's the same horse, only different." Jennifer sounded intrigued by the premise, so much so that it encouraged me to actually write it.

Jenny and I are friends on Facebook and talk about various things. One of these various things led to another and before I knew it, I hired her to look at what I had and tell me whether it worked.

According to her very professional opinion, it does. She had suggestions, of course, which were all marvelous and I was happy to implement (who hires an editor and doesn't take their advice?) and today I feel like I've got something people will want to read.

There's still much to do, like arrange for the cover photo and figure out where to place the interior photos, marketing plan, etc, but I'm loving this particular journey.

Here's another excerpt:

* * * * *

When I was young, I spent every day in a big pen with Mom. It was on a hill and made of thick metal poles that kept us from going anywhere else. The ground was hard. Across the path from our pen was a pasture. It wasn’t very big, but there were trees and some green stuff on the ground that looked like it might be good to eat.

There were horses over there. Mostly, they wandered around the pasture. When it was hot out, I could see them on the hill, under the trees. Sometimes I watched them paw at the ground, then bite something.

At the bottom of the hill I could see four white barns and three arenas, a round wood pen, and two human barns. When I pointed them out, Mom corrected me.

“Those are houses. Humans live in houses. Horses live in barns, in stalls.”

Mom taught me a lot. For example, she taught me it wasn’t nice to chew half her tail hair off. I didn’t mean to do it, but once I started nibbling, I couldn’t stop. Afterward, she chewed some of my tail hair and half of my mane, then told me, “See? Not very nice, is it?”

I already looked kind of weird, according to Mom. From what she described, my hair had started out black, then changed to brownish-gray, then it started rubbing off in patches. And my bottom was growing bigger than my front end.

Of course, I didn’t care. I couldn’t see me.

When I was a few months old, Hilde the groom came to our pen. He put a halter on Mom and led her out. I waited for her forever, but she didn’t come back. I decided to call for her.

“Mom—where are you?”

I heard her call back to me right away. It sounded like she was down in one of the white barns. “I’m over in one of the stalls. Don’t worry, we’ll still see each other. And Hilde is going to bring a friend to keep you company.”

She was right. Soon Hilde came back with one of the horses from the pasture. He was a grey horse, and not very tall, not even as tall as me. Hilde walked this horse into my pen, took off his halter, and left him there.

I greeted him right away. “I’m Snoopy.”

“I have no doubt,” he said. “You will call me Uncle Snowy.”

The way he said it sounded like there was no choice. “Okay, Uncle Snowy. You are a very short horse. Why are you so short?”

“Because I’m not a horse, I’m a pony.”

I thought about this. I knew I was a horse, because Mom told me. She said I looked like her. I had four legs with hooves, a mane and tail, a long neck, and two pointed ears on top of a long face. I trotted around Uncle Snowy, checking him out. He had the same thing.

“So you’ll never grow bigger?” I asked.

“Pfft, you know nothing, do you? I’ve got my work cut out for me.”

“What work? And how do you cut it?” I reached forward to run my teeth across his hip—just for fun—but he kicked at me and trotted off.

“I am the teacher. I am put into pens with young horses to teach them how to behave.”

“Oh. Mom said I was getting a friend to keep me company.”

“Not exactly.” He looked at me and laughed. “You look moth-eaten.”

I didn’t know what that meant. “What?”

“Like you’ve been chewed on by a flock of moths.”

“No, just Mom.”

Uncle Snowy rolled his eyes. “Well, at least you aren’t raising a fuss. Some of the young ones I teach are such babies when they’re taken from their moms. You only called after her once.”

“Well, sure. I asked her where she was and she said she was in a stall and would see me soon.”

“And you’re built downhill,” he added. “Your butt is enormous.”

I looked at my behind. It was true, my butt was pretty big. “So what?”

“Well, I suppose it’s a big enough engine that you could jump, but I don’t know how anyone’s going to ride you, and I hope your hind legs can carry all that extra weight.”

I didn’t know what he was talking about. “Ride me? What’s that?”

“It’s when humans get on our backs and tell us to go here and do that. When I was a young pony, they told me to gallop to a fence and jump over it. It was fun and I won a lot of ribbons. Now that I am older, I teach children how to ride.” He turned and trotted away from me. “But it’s something you don’t need to worry about now. Built like that, you might never need to worry about it.” I followed him and pushed at him with my nose, but he kicked me again.

Uncle Snowy taught me a lot of manners. I couldn’t bump into him or nip at his butt like I did Mom.

“Get away from me,” he’d say. “You can’t just run over everyone all the time. I’ll tell you when you can come scratch my back.”

I’d have to back away or he’d kick or bite me. His feet and teeth weren’t big but they hurt. Sometimes he’d nod and I could scratch him, but I had to stand very still and scratch gently. If I bit or started chewing hair, I got a bite on my own bottom and a kick in my chest. Uncle Snowy was strict, but that was okay. I liked living with him.

* * * * *
And here's one of the pictures that will be included.

Oh, and the book's title is From the Horse's Mouth: The Memoir of One Lucky Horse. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

I wish

Subtitle: Niki Gets a Wild Hair.

The other day after Niki had schooled Snoopy, she said, "This horse is getting so broke, I bet I could ride him around the course with no bridle, just the reins around his neck." I never doubt Niki, so of course I thought she could.

A week later she did.

Of course, it started my little brain machine up, and all those little cogs and wheels flashed a picture, of me doing a book signing of Snoopy's book, while Niki does an entire trail course without the bridle. It would be fabulous.

Niki was not immediately on board with this, but who knows where one idea may lead?

In truth, I would like to be the one who does a bridleless trail pattern with my horse. I just need to get to the same level of skill as Niki.

Stop laughing.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I know what I'm doing, and today I know why

I remember the first time I loped. I was on old Buddy, on a longe line. I turned my right foot out, laid it on him and made a kissing sound.

Then I hoped for the best.

It was several years before I understood what I was looking for, physically, and 
could adjust my hands, seat, and legs in order to get the horse to lope. It took even longer to understand why all my adjustments worked.

That is the way much of my riding has gone. Niki or Tina tells me to do something. I do it. I get results. I don't know why. Lately, Niki has been explaining, both before AND after, why she is telling me to do things. Sometimes she quizzes me.

Sometimes I pass.

For awhile now, she's been having me use my inside leg to bend my horse. At first, this felt contrary to what I had been taught. Horses yield to pressure. If you press on their side, they will move away from the pressure. Press them on the left, they will move to the right. In theory, you shouldn't press them with your right leg and expect them to move MORE right, apparently unless you're trying to bend them right instead of trying to push them left.

I know. I didn't get it, either.

Nevertheless, I did as Niki told me. I put my left leg on Snoopy and hoped for the best. Probably a good 75% of the time, he bended around my left leg and went left. The other 25% of the time, well, we went everywhere else, or I ended up tugging at his face to re-route him.

Last night (after months of doing this, I might add), it finally dawned on me what Niki was asking me to do and why it worked. Today when I rode Snoopy, I sat to my right and pushed my right leg into him, visualizing less of a bending action and more of a break at his midsection. He turned immediately right.

I tried the same to the left, and he turned left. We did not have our usual argument about where he was going. I did not have to tug him across to steer him. We trotted poles left, right, left, right, right, left, mostly with my legs and seat telling him what to do.

In the afterglow of such a good lesson, I thought about my epiphany. It applied to so much of my life. I've done what others told me, without knowing why. I always just hope for the best.

From now on, I'm going to put more effort into understanding why I'm doing things, instead of accepting direction without argument.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The reality of memoir

One of the many things I remember from one of Judy Reeve's workshops is that she said (paraphrasing here) that what really happens in life is always bent through our personal filters. If I ever wrote a memoir of my own life, I'm certain there would be friends and family popping out of the woodwork to tell people which events happened differently.

But they happened that way to me.

So now I'm writing my horse's memoir. I am giving him a voice, and an inner life. He may indeed have a voice I can't translate and an inner life I am not privy to. Perhaps, if he had opposable thumbs, he'd be writing his own damn memoir. I am not going to debate animal spirits or anthropomorphism or any of those topics.

What I'm going to do is tell a story. This means I'm putting thoughts and words into his head and mouth, and the heads and mouths of other horses. I'm giving him neighbors in the hospital that he converses with. Some of the horses are the ones I know. Some I've made up. Some events I've rearranged to fit with Snoopy's injury timeline. But here are the truths about his story:

1. He really did break his leg and it really did take two years to recuperate.

2. Other events really did happen, even if they didn't happen at that particular date.

3. Snoopy was changed by his experience. Yes, I believe that.

I realize I am treading the line between fiction and non, but I'm loving the writing, and it's kind of cathartic for me to tell the tale, even if it does blur reality.

Here's another  excerpt from the (very) rough draft:

* * * * *

One day, MomToo* came up the hill. I thought she was coming to get me, but she took Holly out of her pen and led her down the hill. Holly was kind of an old horse and walked like every bone in her body was stuck together.

“She moves funny,” I said.

“You will, too, if you live to be as old as her.”

“How old is old?”

“It depends. For horses, humans say we are old at twenty, but humans are still young when they are that age. You are a year old, and very big. A one-year old person is still carried around, unable to walk or talk.”

MomToo came back, leading Holly, who looked very clean and shiny.

“Holly.” I called out to her. “Why are you so clean and shiny.”

“I am leaving tomorrow,” she said. “I am going to the Clover Fields.”

I had never heard of this place.

“But you are not as old as me,” Bonnie said.

“No,” Holly replied, “But you can still walk up and down this hill without much pain. My knees have been aching for a long time. Remember how Tina had to take me out of the pasture because the other horses were bullying me?”

“Yes. My hocks hurt, but at least I could stand my ground out there.”

“Excuse me,” I said. “But where are the Clover Fields?”

They all looked at me. Uncle Snowy tried to explain it.

“The Clover Fields aren’t exactly a where, but a what. It is the place a horse goes when they die.”

I had heard about dying and death from Mom, and had sometimes seen birds and mice with no movement. Mom said everything had a spirit that was for always, but our bodies were only for right now. I didn’t quite understand at the time. As Uncle Snow explained, I tried to understand better.

“In the Clover Fields, we are whole again and may run without pain, and eat the sweet clover, and enjoy who we are. Others we have loved, humans or animals, can find us there. If we are needed, we can return to this place and allow our spirit to be born into a new body.”

“Why would you want to leave a place like that?”

“To help someone we love.”

I always believed Mom and Uncle Snowy, but it was a lot to think about. Something bothered me.

“Holly, how do you know you’re going tomorrow?”

“Your owner told me, while she was bathing me. She didn’t quite get all the details correct. Humans don’t know about the Clover Fields until they get there. But I understood what she was saying.”

Her answer frightened me. “Is my MomToo going to kill you?”

“No. It was sweet of her to clean me up. She thought I should sparkle when I get there. The doctor is coming tomorrow morning. He will give me a shot that will make me sleep so deeply that I will be able to leave this body.” She hung her head. “I will miss you all, but I am actually looking forward to not hurting anymore. And I will have company on my journey, as Uno will be leaving, too.”

Uno was a big sorrel gelding. I had seen him around the ranch.

“Uno?” Now Uncle Snowy sounded surprised. “But he is younger still.”

“Yes, but his front leg is giving out. I have heard them talking. The doctor has been out many times, taking pictures, and showing his heel sinking. He told his owner, Gayle, that she should not wait, or the bones would collapse through his foot.”

“Gayle?” I cried out. “That’s my MomToo.”

 “Do not think badly of your owner,” Bonnie said. “Our humans love us and do not want us to be in any pain that we cannot survive. Some pain we overcome. We heal. But Uno’s foot will never heal. It is on its way from a little pain to a forever pain. Just as Holly’s knees will never heal. Nor my hocks.” She smiled a little as she spoke of herself.

“How do they know a sometime pain from a forever pain?” I asked.

Uncle Snowy scratched my withers to calm me. “They look you all over, they talk to doctors and take pictures of you, and they try everything to heal you first.”

I remembered when I was little and my foot hurt when I walked on it. Every day, MomToo, Auntie Niki, and Hilde came to my pen and made me put my foot in hot water. Then Hilde would pick my foot up, dig around with the hoof pick, then put something black and icky on it and tape it. After forever, it stopped hurting.

Uncle Snowy was right. They tried everything, until I felt better.

Still, we were mostly quiet the rest of the day. Holly stood as usual, with her nose against Bonnie’s at the fence. I thought about the Clover Fields and what that might be like. I didn’t know what clover was, but Uncle Snowy said it was sweet. Apples are sweet, so I imagined a field of apples.

That wouldn’t be too bad, but I’d have no one up there to hang out with me, except Holly, I guessed. Maybe Uno would be my friend.

I also thought about leaving that place to come back here in a new body. Did that mean my spirit was in another body before this one? It was hard to sleep that night. I couldn’t imagine what I might have looked like, or why I couldn’t remember a field full of apples.

It was early the next morning when Hilde came up for Holly. The air was cool, but I could feel the heat would be here soon. The ranch was quieter than I ever heard it before. None of us spoke, until Holly was on her way down the hill.

“Take care,” she called back to us. “I’ll see you all again, one way or another.”

As I watched her walking, I saw another horse at the bottom of the hill. He was a big sorrel gelding, and MomToo was leading him into the big barn. I saw them come out the back. There were more humans there, but there were trees in my way and I couldn’t see what was happening.

Suddenly, I heard a deep voice. “Sorry about the bum leg.”

My MomToo’s thought voice answered. “Just find a new body and get back here.”

After that, there was quiet, then MomToo’s thought voice again.

“Good-bye, Holly. I’ll miss you.”

A loud, rumbling noise made me look away. Something large, with wheels on the ground and walls in the back, rolled into the ranch.

“That’s what the humans call the teal truck,” Uncle Snowy said. “It will pick up the empty bodies and take them away.”

 “Where does it take them?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care. Holly and Uno don’t live there anymore.”

* * * * *

*After typing "Two-legged Mom" multiple times in this manuscript, I've changed what Snoopy calls me to "MomToo". Sue me. Or thank me.

Marcus on Hollywood Hobby, aka "Holly"

Friday, October 5, 2012

Finding Snoopy's voice

I'm currently on schedule to complete the rough draft of Snoopy's memoir by the first of November. When I began writing it, Snoopy's voice was like an equine Forrest Gump, a chap who knows he's stupid and it's okay with him. I also began with his accident, then alternated chapters between post-accident and pre-accident.

A couple of things made me re-think all that.

The big thing was that I sent a couple of chapters to a beta reader who was supremely helpful in pointing out where things didn't work. There were two big problems, as she saw it. When she explained them, I agreed.

First, it was not a good idea to start off with the accident. Readers have not gotten to know him yet, so it is hard for them to feel badly about what happened. They need to have an idea of who he is and why this leg break, as scary and sad as it is, does not ravage his spirit.

I rearranged the book so that it tells a linear story. We know Snoopy from his birth, just like David Copperfield.

Secondly, Forrest Gump aside, it's a difficult task to carry the reader along a simpleton's journey. It's a huge undertaking for the author to keep the voice authentically stupid, and it can be just plain exhausting for the reader trying to trudge through it without screaming, "Stop being such an idiot."

This meant I had to take another look at Snoopy, who he is, and what his voice is like. Here's what I know about him:

1. He is never mean or out of sorts.
2. He is rarely frightened of anything.
3. He touches everything with his mouth (unless we don't let him).
4. He mostly does what you ask him to do when you are in the saddle.
5. When he doesn't do what you ask, he acts like he doesn't feel your leg. When you get after him, he behaves.
6. Over poles, he is very careful with his feet. Everywhere else, he is not.
7. He is very trusting.

I then read some books that have been written in first-person from the animal's point of view. I read Black Beauty (again), War Horse, and the first three chapters of The Art of Racing in the Rain. Amazingly, the one that sounded most like an animal to me was Black Beauty. It is probably the standard, being such a classic, and while it is the story of a horse who must endure hardships until he finally finds his home, it is also a lesson in animal welfare and the need to treat everyone with kindness and respect.

I do not aspire to the heights of that classic, but I think Sewell got the voice very correct. He is an English country squire in his attitude, but the voice sounds very horse-like. As much as he understands people, he also has conversations with the other horses. We learn everyone's stories, and each one has something to say.

Here is a passage where Beauty was being trained:

"Next came the saddle, but that was not half so bad. My master put it on my back very gently, while old Daniel held my head. He then made the girths fast under my body, patting and talking to me all the time. Then I had a few oats, then a little leading about. This he did every day, till I began to look for the oats and the saddle."

Apart from a horse knowing the words saddle and girth, this sounds like a horse thinks, in my most humble opinion. He speaks in a straightforward way. He describes the feeling of being handled gently; this is important, as are the oats.

When I contrast that with War Horse, it sounds like a old man in a horse suit talking. Don't misunderstand - I liked the story. Even cried in a couple of places. But it's not a horse talking. At least, I cannot believe it is a horse's perspective on the world.

"As we approached the flagpole in the center of the green where the Union Jack hung limp in the sun against the white pole, an officer pushed through the crowd toward us. He was tall and elegant in his jodhpurs and military belt, with a silver sword at his side."

What horse knows what the Union Jack is? Or human fashion? Or cares?

I will, at some point, finish The Art of Racing in the Rain, but I am skeptical of the first person dog. He has an extensive vocabulary, which I am fine with, as well as his rich inner life. My one sticking point? He watches TV. I've never owned a dog who watched TV. Duffy listens to TV and gets very excited when there are dogs barking on it. But only my cats watch TV, mostly sports. They like to lay on top of the set and swat at the hurtling bodies and balls.

So Snoopy's voice will be that of a curious, naive horse, one who does not realize his own depth, or even his own strength, as he recovers from what could have been a life-ending injury. He will be plain spoken, and will have to be taught what things are.

Here's my new beginning:

"I don’t know very much, but I know what I am. I am a horse. Some people say we aren’t very smart. They may be right. They train us, though. It’s not exactly our fault if they teach us to be stupid.

And I don’t understand why they say we aren’t smart. I understand what people are saying. I even understand what they are thinking. Why can’t they understand my language?

I don’t even know how people understand each other. Their thought voices and loud voices happen at the same time, and most of the time, they’re not saying the same thing. Sometimes they’re saying completely opposite things."

Of course, this is just the rough draft.

Hee Hee Haw.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A horsey riddle

Here is a little mystery for you all to try to solve.

Frostie lives in a pipe stall on the edge of the arena. She has been out here for months, although until recently, she was in a much larger stall. It turns out the panels were owned by a client and they wanted them back. This is the place.

One Monday evening, she was fine. The next morning, she was not fine. As a matter of fact, she looked like she'd been hit by a truck. NOTE: The pictures below were all taken two weeks after the incident.

Both front legs were scraped on the front AND back.

Her elbow looked as though it had received a friction burn.

So had her withers (on the same side as her elbow).

Her withers are still swollen and we're hoping she didn't break them.

Tina guessed that she had gotten cast in her stall at some point, and injured herself trying to get free. It's fairly common with horses, that they lay down too close to a wall or other boundary, then can't get any leverage to get back up again and thrash about in the process.

Here's what I don't understand: How the hell did she get her withers involved?

One view of ties and pipes.
As you can see, Tina put railroad ties around the stalls to keep the bedding from leaking out. I wondered why none of them was damaged or moved in her struggle, but Tina said she puts spikes down to keep them from moving (she has since removed the spikes so they can be pushed out of the way if a horse gets stuck).

But still... her withers?

Another view of ties and pipes

It doesn't make sense to me. Can anyone out there provide a scenario? I'm stumped.