How my horse taught me to write…

When I paid attention, I learned a lot from my horse. My most recent Personal Steed was a 17.1 hand Hanoverian (doing business as an Oldenburg) gelding whom I referred to as Boy Genius. When he had adequate years, his moniker morphed into Wonder Pony, and several other appellations, depending on the quality of our ability to communicate.

Beloved Offspring on Beloved Andy

I am not by nature an athlete. My idea of a good day is to sit for at least six hours in front of the computer, spewing make believe and swilling decaf tea, then having a nice lie down with my latest potential keeper (book, that is) for a few hours, then a few more hours of composing at the computer. I will feed my beasts at the beginning and the end of the day, which entails heaving a few hay bales, maybe lugging a 50-pound sack of pony chow from the top to the bottom of the barn, and chucking out some 5-gallon buckets of water, but God forbid I should break a sweat.

As much as I loved my horse and enjoyed riding, there were many days when my energy for the task was not great. Then too, there were windy days, when the arena might creak and groan, provoking my dearest steed to occasional lapses of dignity. Or sometimes it might be stinkin’ hot, or stinkin’ cold. Stinkin’ rainy was only half an excuse because I rode in an indoor arena, but it would do in a pinch.

Some days, I would get to the barn, tack up my horse (or the grooms, sly boots, would tack him up for me), and lead him into the arena, and still, the motivation to ride would not well up in my soul. “I’ll just ride him at the walk,” I’d say. I’d swing aboard, pat my pony, and off he would saunter. He has a lovely walk, does Wonder Pony. He walks like a gunslinger, and if you make allowances for his species, the guy is certainly tall, dark and handsome.

We’d walk this-a-way, and that-a-way, and pretty soon, we’d have walked just about every way you can in a modest indoor, all the while having a nice visit with my instructor about Life In General, or maybe a little about how the horse feels to me as we walk. What the hell, I would say to my pony after about ten minutes, let’s just loosen up a little at the trot. But the horse has a pretty big trot, and as is the case with some warmbloods, he loosens up better at the canter.

So what the other hell, I’d cue him into a nice, relaxed canter, which is kinda fun. But you can’t canter just one way, so we’d canter around the other direction and maybe try a flying change across the middle, and before long, I’m trying to put the horse together in a working trot, working on suppleness, moving him off my leg (this is a term of art), and generally engaged in the meat of a worthwhile riding lesson.

Todd Bryan, most wonderful trainer

My instructor (also tall, dark and handsome, but not the same species as the horse) probably pulled my horse aside first thing in the day, and worked out this little conspiracy, but eventually, when I’d say, “I think I’ll just sit on him at the walk,” it was all both of them could do not to laugh at my prevarications outright.

Let them laugh. They are my prevarications, and they serve me well. When I’m not enthusiastic about taking a walk (which is 90 percent of the time) I’ll tell myself, “I’ll just go a half mile to the neighbor’s mail box). This is generally the start of a two-mile walk. When it comes to housework, I tell myself, “Just vacuum the bedroom. You can worry about the downstairs later.” And sometimes, I do, and sometimes, as long as I have the darnedd thing out…

When it comes to my writing, prevaricating is very handy. “I’ll just read over what I wrote yesterday….” “I’ll just buff the last scene, add a little dialogue…” “I’ll just get out one scene, then have a cup of tea….” If you ride the right horse, if you’re patient with yourself, and you don’t judge yourself for nibbling your way through life’s challenges, you too can complete twenty-five manuscripts without ever once pressuring yourself  to finish a single book.

 Have you ever walked your way to a significant accomplishment? Tried just one date, signed up for a single course… tell us about it. To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of “Lady Eve’s Indiscretion,” which is also a story about taking small steps toward a big goal.


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42 comments on “How my horse taught me to write…

  1. I’ve learned to jog for forty minutes by taking it in 100 step increments. Inside. On the spot. In front of the picture window watching the world wake up because that was my answer to the weather and fitting exercise into my schedule in a way that works.

  2. I have always loved to sing and according to my mother I used to “sing” myself to sleep when I was a baby, so I guess I have been singing my whole life, but I absolutely refused to sing in front of people. Dancing was different, piano was different. I could do recitals and not break a sweat, but don’t ask Sarah to sing by herself in front of anyone. I would sing alone in my room, recording myself on an old tape deck,I still have some of those old tapes. I am sure my parents heard me. I even sang in choirs. Somehow I forced myself to sing for the choir instructors in jr. high and high school so they knew where to put me. I knew I had to sing fairly well because I was often called to sing in small groups. I refused to audition for the best choir at our high school because I didn’t want to have to sing my solo in front of the class and you also were required to audition for regional and state choir. I was happily part of the group with secret dreams of singing on Broadway. When I started my sophomore year of college I took a big gulp and signed up for a group voice class not really knowing what it was going to entail. That first day we were handed the syllabus and learned that after four weeks of learning vocal exercise and technique were would spend the rest of the semester singing solos (six in all) and being critiqued by the class as well as the teacher (this was years before American Idol). I almost dropped the class but when the instructor learned that I had attended the high school that I did he was very impressed and was looking forward to hearing me because my old high school choir director was very well known. When my day came to sing my first solo I bravely asked to go first and with my knees knocking, face on fire and teeth clenched together I sang “I’ve Got a Crush on You” by the Gershwins. Our instructor was dumbfounded as to how much sound could come out of my mouth with my teeth locked and I got fairly good critiques from my fellow classmates. We concluded the semester with a formal recital for anyone to come and see and it was so much fun. I wound up taking all the full four semesters that you could take of the class and the instructor always had to tell the new class all about my first performance and how much I had grown in my performance. I went back to my high school to tell my old choir director and he was very proud of me. My dad was my biggest fan and always wanted me to sing for him. I even sang a few solo’s in church. I still love to sing but have not sung a solo in front of people other than my kids in over 14 years. My husband does the singing now. Maybe one day I will get to sing again.
    Here’s a funny if not sad note. I never finished my college degree because I got married, but I only lack a couple of courses. The first being a lab science course and the second being a communications course. I put off communications for so long because I absolutely hate talking in front of people and that was always required in the communications classes. I used to say “If I could sing my persuasive essay it would be no problem.”
    There is my novel for this week.

    • I was a music history major, but we had to have a performance instrument and EVERYBODY had to take voice. Teaches you humility, voice does, and respct for those who can sing. Well done, Sarah, and you’ll get the collage degree if you want it. The speech requirement at Penn State was holding up so many people from graduating that they eventually developed a speech class for people who were reticent (phobic?) about public speaking.
      The shoe was on the other foot for me. I can do public speaking, but don’t expect me to play the piano in public, at least not repertoire.

  3. I’m sort of an all or nothing type. I can put things off for the longest time but once I start, I have to darn well finish lol. To this day it still bothers me that after convincing my mother to let me take an instrument, she grudgingly gave in but no one encouraged me and of the 3 of us taking an hour lesson a week at school, I was the only one not taking private lessons. I was very discouraged and one day in summer said I didn’t want to practice that day – my mom gave that rented violin (I really wanted to learn piano but that was out of the question) back faster than you could blink. At least it was a lesson well learned for me not to give up no matter what. (Although sometimes I think there are things that I should have given up on lol).

    • Violin is tough. I wonder if making the rental payments on the violin was also tough. I’m fortunate that I started out on piano, and then could add a bit of flute, ‘cello, guitar, voice, etc. Keyboards are nowhere near as expensive as they used to be, Jeanne, and piano teachers are thick on the ground. I say, it’s never too late, go for it.
      I’m thinking of tackling Gaelic myself…

  4. I miss riding. I miss the smells, yes ALL of them. Not so much the work of getting out of bed in the morning. I went to college for HorseHusbandry and got Associates Degree as that was all there was back then. It’s a good way to learn to delegate tasks.

    • When I wrote today’s post, I had horses in the back yard, though no longer. This is post is a sort of memoriam, because Wonder Pony shattered a pastern bone this week and was sent to the Cloud Pasture. He was nothing but grace in my life, and I will always miss him.
      The interesting thing is, ours was an arranged marriage. My daughter had outgrown him, and my own horse had turned up lame. Wonder Pony and I reached an understanding over time. He gave me the gift of listening and helped me learn how to listen to my pony. Big gifts, and big tears to mark his passing.

  5. I “walk” myself to almost everything. I am lazy since my birth (mom did all the pushing) so when I want to achieve something I have to force myself to do the whole 9 yards. I “walk” myself to work 5 days a week, once I am there I am fine as I know what is expected of me. Household chores are a big “walking” effort but here I have found myself continuing with it once I get myself going and there is no distraction (e.g. my laptop, television, phonecalls, visits, BOOKS). I am good at most of the things when I am under pressure. Four times a year I am doing the magazine for our local German Club in Elizabeth and I know for sure when it is due but I still wait till the last minute and then I am working for three to four days nonstop on it till it is finished.
    Even in school I used to work like this. We had a reading assignment in my English class and we knew about it a year ahead. We had to read an English novel and give a free speech about it in front of the class. I waited almost 9 months till I presented my choices of books to my teacher who wasn’t happy about them and persuaded me to read “David Copperfield”. When I had the date for my turn I used the weekend before to read the book (only ate twice a day and went to the bathroom) by curling myself up in my bed. I skipped PE on monday to do the summary and make a list with notes for the speech and on tuesday I stood in front of class and did my best. I scored an A. Sometimes I wonder what I could achieve if I wasn’t so wanting but unable to doing…

    • Manuela, I don’t have a lot of physical energy. I used to run like a top, but now something–age, Lyme disease, thyroid disease, chronic anemia, adrenal burn out, I know not what–has relieved me of much of my drive. My mind is still a busy, energetic place, though, and that provides a kind of satisfaction. One of the things I love about writing is that it inspires me–breathes energy into my brain, if not my body.

      So I write, in part because that’s what I can do. I intend to find another horse, too, though I’ll tell myself I might only ride him at the walk…

  6. I admit to starting many, many things in my life and finishing almost none. I don’t know if I get bored, tired or what but most of the time I never finish what I’ve started. The only exceptions seems to have been the four afghans I made for my two oldest granddaughters, two each, one with a heart motif then a second one at a later date, when they were going to be baptised, with a cross motif. I’ve got two more granddaughters and a grandson and so far none of the three have either of their afghans. The excuse for not making the one with the heart motif is that I can no longer find the pound skeins of the baby rainbow colored yarn. Maybe by the time they’re grown and married I’ll have made them each at least one afghan. My main problem now is the arthritis in my hands makes it very difficult to crochet and I don’t knit at all.

    • Arthritis is unfair. My mom suffers from it, and I suspect my dad’s “bad back” is mostly arthritic. Seems to me those kids ought to be sharing afghans, so it’s one each, not two each for the first two. Grandma has things to do beside go yarn hunting, right?

  7. I “talked” myself into or let myself be talked into applying for a job working at a school for kids with behavior/learning/emotional problems. Coming from the All American family with parents who loved each other and us to distraction, it was something of a challenge to try and undstand just what is wrong with these kids. That was 4 years ago, I have realized that the kids I deal with are the ones who if you knew their story you would say “Yep, you have a legitimate right to be ticked off at the world!” But then you say, “So, you are mad? Good, lets use that mad to show those who put you down just what you are capable of even without their help!” I had my first student graduate this past December and I thought my heart would break knowing what kind of environment he was graduating into. Another of my guys, is 19 almost 20 has 1 semester left to get his diploma and he not only quit school (again) but has been missing for two weeks. The kids that come and go touch my heart everyday and while I try to turn my work brain off at 3pm I am hardly ever able to do it. I know this doesn’t sound like a “Great Accomplishment” but, to the kids that help me open my eyes to the world they survive in and for them to know that when they come to school they are safe and cared for, it is huge! By the way, both of your tall dark and handsomes would make a wonderful template for book characters. One more by the way, I read a reply you wrote about Fairly, Darius etc. in which you said that some of their stories would be set before meeting Westhaven and the duke, my question is if you are setting them that far back will the good questions be answered.. Like what is the deal with Fairly owning a brothel?

    • Theresa, your client population is my client population, and the wonder of it is that any of those kids turn out with their heads on straight and their hearts functional. Look after YOURSELF, because being in that environment, you can easily become numb to your own needs, just as many of the children become numb to simple things like, “Am I tired? Am I hungry? Am I scared? Do I have to use the restroom?”

      We take much for granted.

      And as for those questions… I wrote these books before I wrote the Windham series, so yes, I suspect a lot of questions regarding Fairly’s brothel, Douglas and Gwen, and who is this Heathgate fellow anyway, will be answered.

  8. I heard once at a conference (I have heard it a number of times since) that if you write a page a day, you will have a 365-page book in a year (366 pages on a leap year). I never write that little, but it is a reassuring thought, nevertheless. Slow and steady will do the trick. Remaining at a standstill will not.

  9. As it is with writing, so it is with education, gardening, relationships, getting in shape… Slow and steady will do the trick. Maybe for me, that approach works because with progress comes confidence. For other people, the confidence is responsible for the progress…? I will think on this.

  10. Wow, this post has given me a lot to think about. My trick to make myself write when I’m dragging my feet is to tell myself I’m just going to write two words. Two words, then I can go wander off and watch all the netflix I want. Inevitably I get sucked back into the story and don’t notice until hours later that I never did get to watch that movie.

    I survived public speaking by taking it in the summer. The class was a lot smaller than it would have been during the semester, which helped, plus I gave my first speech about my puppy, mostly so I could bring in said puppy and hold onto it for moral support. I think there’s also the option of taking public speaking classes online now, so you just make a video of your speech instead of having to give it live.

    • I love this tactic! Who could push away from the computer having written, “Once upon….”? Diabolical. And bringing the puppy to the speech class? Brilliant.

      Cannot wait to see what books are generated by such a mind, Jennifer. Let me know if I can ever beta read some pages for you.

      • Someone was just telling me about online Public Speaking classes and it made me laugh to think about it. I guess I didn’t think about video taping your speech. Now that I could probably do. I know back then the basic class had you do a persuasive speech where you tried to persuade someone to your way of thinking and that is just not me. I might have to look into this class is I ever feel the need to have that degree.

  11. I am learning this nibble-by-nibble technique…and to nibble in just a couple directions. It seems to be the most effective way to improve my quality of life while acknowledging the reality of living with a chronic illness.

    Think my first,and still consistent, prevarication is “I’ll read just one more chapter.”

    • Larisa, I think of this approach as the pull as opposed to push. Push is, “I must, I ought, I should, I owe, etc,” whereas pull is, “I want to,” “I’d enjoy,” “I feel like…” Pull allows me to listen to what’s going on inside me and heed it, push means I might listen to it, but I can’t heed it.

      I write the same way, without page goals, written objectives, word counts, writing plans, and other external indicia of discipline.

  12. I love this post. It is so “me”. For instance, when I was trying to walk to loose weight, my weightloss coach wanted me to walk for 30 minutes a day. The only way I could do this was to tell myself that I was only going to walk 15 minutes from my driveway, then I was going to turn around and go home. And, I was only going to do it once, just to see…
    The next day I walked 17 minutes before turning around. And so it went, until I was walking for an hour a day. I had the same conversation with myself everyday. “Just 15 minutes, then turn around. Well maybe two more minutes. What’s two minutes, really?”

    • Tracey: YES. Except this summer I got to the point where the deal was, “I’ll walk six minutes from my house, and then come back.” I tried to do that three or four times a day, and gradually, as the weather cooled off, my range increased. Geesh.

    • Love this attitude, I luckily found a friend that lives (to Australian standards) down the road and now we walk her overweight doggies three times a week for half an hour. When we get Dozer to walk through the little round without stopping and/or plopping down, we’ll extend the round to the next block.

  13. I have always thought that there was something fundamentally wrong with me for being “low energy.” Therefore I must begin by remarking that it is a wonderful reassurance to hear that I am in the company of such productive people who feel the same way about themselves.

    My story of baby steps has to do with my education and career. I went to college because my parents would tolerate nothing less. I admit I enjoyed to social piece and did not put much into my studies, just doing “OK.”

    At then end of my freshman year when I still had no direction, my father sent me off to spend the day with an occupational therapist he knew. While many interesting things occurred during the day I was most taken with the artificial limbs and training people to use them. The clincher tho’ was when she gave me a booklet that listed all of the OT schools in the US and I was thrilled with all the cool places I could go to study (great way to choose a career – eh?) Yes, that and finding a program that did not require me to take college chemistry were the beginning of my quest. I succeeded and had a glorious time living in Mass. I don’t know why I didn’t stay (coward). And then… concrete thinker that I thought I was, I ended up working with developmentally delayed, learning disabled, and autism challenged children.

    Truth be told however, I had really wanted to go to physical therapy school (did not try due to fear of chemistry, physics and higher math). The problem as I saw it was that I thought like a PT not an OT… so I stuck my toe in the water and took a statistics course. It was only one course and the instructor was great… I was delighted and got an A (huh!?). The first time I tried taking chemistry I dropped out (this coward thing is a pattern yes?) Then I decided to try physics. Once again a great instructor who was willing to practically tutor me outside of class, got me through… another A (go figure). When I finally got up my nerve to try chemistry again I wound up in a class for high achievers by accident and a needed to accommodate my work hours. The instructor basically said if I was willing to buckle down, he would give me all the help I needed. I can tell you many amusing stories but the end result is that I succeeded at chemistry, managed to avoid taking calculous (thanks to that Chem. Prof.) and after dawdling my way along for 5 long years, finally got in to PT school. FYI I also got through PT school, passed my licensing exams and began practicing as an OT/PT.

    I have many other stories, some still in progress, but the challenge was to tell one that I eventually succeeded at. So there you are 🙂

    • Funny, how way leads onto way, and I hope you love being a PT, because it’s important work. My dad tells a story about being new on the milk truck job, doing the tanker run from farm to farm, collecting all the milk in the holding tanks. This was part of his grand plan to become a dairy farmer, but he forgot to secure the hose coupling between the tanker truck and the big tank at the main dairy. All that moo juice went all over the ground.

      End of job, end of dream. In desperation, he signed up to be a dairy science major at Penn State, and ended up becoming a dairy chemist who absolutely loved his calling.

      Your journey required three dedicated teachers, and lot of your own time and effort, but it started with that, “why not try it?” decision. Good on you!

      • I failed to mention the most amusing part!! While I admit that I love my moonlighting work in all sorts of hospitals, clinics and rehab. centers, my “main job” is still in school and still with those difficult to define, DD, LD & ASD challenged students. I guess I just love them and can’t stay away.

        The PT has enriched my ability to help them a great deal (in my opinion anyway)

      • Thank you, Sue, for having a heart for those kids. As a mom to 3 boys on the spectrum I appreciate all the different therapists, teachers and aides who really love these special kids. In the state we live in our boys receive therapy both in school and out of school ,through the state services, and our family has been blessed with an amazing occupational therapist who has been coming to our house for the last seven and a half years to work with my Twins. When my youngest son first qualified for OT through early intervention you could not find an OT with openings to save your life but our OT moved around her schedule to fit him in. She is like part of the family and has watched both my youngest son and my seven year old “typical” son grow up. My youngest son also receives physical therapy for severe delays and other issues and again we have been blessed with a wonderful PT for him who you can tell loves what she does. We have had therapists who you can tell do not love what they do and it does make a difference, so thank you for all that you do. I hope the parents of the kids you work with appreciate all that you do.

  14. Ah, just take that first step. I’m inherently lazy too, Manuela. Many days, just getting out of bed and going to work is about convincingly myself to make that first move and put my feet on the floor.
    And, like Myrna, I became a runner/jogger one minute at a time. Now I CrossFit by making myself walk into the box. I can’t let myself go home because (this time of year especially) I’ll never leave.
    I’m going to get my act together when it comes to keeping my home organized and giving myself time to do the things I love and grow my Amway business. I started tonight by creating a schedule for what needs to be cleaned on a daily basis.
    I want to embroider and knit, grow my business, blog (for the writing practice), and enjoy my home and my friends. Unfortunately, I’ve taken such a haphazard approach to life lately that none of it is getting done. Tonight I took that first step to making changes. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed.

    • Sabrina, I catch the occasional reference to the CrossFit stuff, and read your blog about the DC challenge, and between that and the day job, I don’t know how you have ANYTHING left over. My house is a bare necessities sort of dwelling, though my yard gets a lot of attention in nice weather, and I could not survive ten minutes of the workouts you do regularly.
      So, yes, fingers crossed, best of luck, and when you’ve got something up on the blog, please do give us the link, kay?

      • (Un)fortunately, CrossFit is about the only thing done regularly. And it gets talked about the most because no one wants to listen to me complain about my job all the time (though I do have a pretty good group of kids this semester). I’d like to add more days at CrossFit and do all those other things. None of them are horribly time consuming or have to be done every day, but I just need to budget and manage my time better. I’ve been working on the financial budget during the month of January. Now for the time budget in February.

    • Yes, that getting out of bed syndrome is something I suffer from. Once I am out and about it is ok though, and work is no problem but the getting there is!!!

    • Yes, I do suffer from the not getting out of bed syndrome but once I am out and about I am fine. Getting to work is a problem though.
      I also make plans but that is where it stops. Home is where my books are and I am reading so housework has to wait.

  15. I am training for my first 50k trail run (that’s 31 miles!). It sounds daunting and I am no natural athlete either, but it is a significant challenge I wanted to make for myself. You can’t just jump into running 30 miles at a time. I started at the very beginning, months before the event, with runs of just a few miles – gradually building to longer and longer. I hope to run the 50k in early April!

    • Priscilla, I was married to a guy who ran ultras, winning several 50 milers. He’s often said that what he wished he’d known as a younger athlete is that Rest is a Part of Conditioning, and that stretching is not optional.
      Take it easy, and best of luck. When I started a fifty miler (with no intention of finishing), I ended up trying to keep up with an 81 year old named Carl, who DID finish.

  16. I have done a lot of one-step-at-a-time healing/learnings in my life, and they do work! I once gained a third of my body weight over normal… which felt to me like I was walking around with no energy. Luckily I was able to slowly, slowly lose the excess weight by taking those one more minute a day walks (plus one bite of more healthy food a day perseverance). It took me 6 years of stressful work but I got my energy back!

    My most recent experience has been getting through a physical/emotional disaster that has taken me about 2 years to get a handle on. I read piles and piles of romances looking for hope and excitement, but really, the main reason was to find wisdom. Romance authors are very smart people who have knowledge on all levels. I figured if I studied enough of these women through their writings I’d have a great women’s support community. (Mary Balogh got me smoothly through a very difficult two weeks last spring. Grace, you know you brought me important insight about how I had symbolically soldiered through a horrible personal war.)

    During this time I was on my back 90% of the day, but I made sure to walk as far as I could every day, no matter what the pain. I know that lying around for me means gaining weight… and I refuse to go back to 1/3 too much weight, ever, no matter what happens!

    And here I am now, coming out the other side, slightly handicapped and slightly overweight, but doing great!

    • We can live with slightly’s, even if they aren’t of the Mary Balogh variety. Well done, Leigh. I’m convinced Dave Berry had as much to do with my daughter getting through some bad depression as any meds did.

  17. Sincere condolences on your loss, celebrate the bond and the good memories that you had with Wonder Pony, he sounds like a wonderful friend.

    I hate speaking in public, in front of groups I tended to stutter badly and get very red but I started reading stories aloud for a website that was designed to help others learn English so I had to slow down and learn to enunciate. I still turn terribly red but the stutter is better!

    I always equate facing large tasks to the challenge for a mouse being given a large chunk of cheese…so I nibble and nibble at it until it becomes manageable.

  18. Pingback: Early April Wrap Up | Waxcreative Design Blog

  19. OK. I’m a lawyer, a mother, a former dressage rider and even longer ago a commuter. I’d come home from San Francisco in the dark of night, thinking “I’m too tired to ride tonight”. I’d figure I’d drive up to the barn, get my horse out of her stall and let her stretch her legs.

    By the time I’d changed into riding gear, I was a bit more refreshed. Maybe I’ll saddle her up and just trot around.

    By the time I was mounted, the day was far behind me and I was ready to school. So, it was 10 pm when I got home, to fix dinner and fall into bed.

    I’m a rider, after all.