Sport Horse Fan stuff

Looking for Zare? Click here for Episode 44!

Last July I got attend the Great Meadow International–a three star 2 day event. The riders from the US Equestrian Olympic Team, plus a couple other country team members, were using it as a prep for the Olympics. It was so much fun to watch riders and horses that good compete.

I dragged Zorro’s DSLR around all weekend and have a few hundred pictures, as you can imagine. I’m rather proud of myself for picking just a few favorites. They are impressions, hoping to capture the speed, guts, and precision of the most impressive team sport there is (no, really, how many other teams contain a 1000 lb beast of prey who doesn’t speak the same language?).

Anyway, I hope you enjoy them. They are available for purchase as prints, framed prints, and a variety of other things at www.redbubble.com and www.society6.com/

gutsnspeedframe
Guts and Speed
precisionframe
Precision
sport-horse-concentrationframe
Concentration

doldrums

Late Spring/early Summer is apparently a rough time on my writing! I apologize for the interrupted posting. It’s when all the travel wraps up that I tumble flat on my creative face and find that coloring books are about all I can manage. That and practicing my penmanship.

I promise I’m working on the story, too.

I even drew a little from scratch this week.

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in-process acrylic

Snapped a picture of my current project–a little tribute to fox hunting, which is a big deal where I live. Before you panic, they don’t actually catch the fox these days. At least not the club I’ve been out with. These hounds don’t even know what they are chasing, but they do love to chase.

Why do people fox hunt? Because following a pack of hounds hot on a scent over hill and dale, finding a trail wherever they take you, is loads of fun. It’s also kinda crazy and dangerous, because excitement and obstacles and stuff. Truly, though, I feel plenty safe when we’re cantering down a narrow trail. It’s the standing around waiting for the hounds to find something–that’s the part I don’t like! Maybe because my mount hates waiting and starts creating entertainment after 5 minutes.

One of these days I will think to put down the background before starting on the fun stuff in the foreground. But it is not this day.

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Fire Horse

I have a new design up on Redbubble. Christmas week I just had a hankering to draw a horse–my favorite kind of horse to draw, the Arabian.

Arabians and their daughter breed, the Thoroughbred, are high energy horses–often referred to as “hot” or more poetically “fiery.”

There is a half Thoroughbred horse where I ride who I will probably always refer to as a colt–because he acts like one. Always active and getting into trouble, he has a deep desire to work, to run,  to do stuff, and be the center of attention.  He is not afraid of much, but he’ll spook at imaginary things for an excuse to gallop across his pasture. Then he’ll prance, stamping and rearing just because he can. Last week he was plucking the fence like a guitar.

Some horses are made of fire.

firehorse

Click here to shop at Redbubble.

firehorseproducts

 

16-A Plan

*

“I am very sorry for the loss of your city,” said Quill through gritted teeth, bringing me back to the present as I peeled the last layer bandage away from his leg. The wound was still an angry red hole, but I thought it looked a bit better. The riding had been significantly kinder to it than the walking.

Vaudrin returned with a waxed canvas bucket filled with water and I set to gently washing the calf.

“Do you need anything else, milady?” Vaudrin asked.

“No, thank you, you may sit.”

Vaudrin hesitated, then sank to his bedroll next to Quill’s.

“If I may ask, Quill, how old are you?” I dabbed the ragged flesh carefully.

“Torturer,” hissed Quill. “Probe my wounds and ask questions, but I will not relent.”

I wrinkled my nose, unsure of the laugh that was trying to strangle out. “You had better relent, else I’ll rinse your wounds with vinegar.”

Quill wriggled uncomfortably but said nothing.

I moved on to smearing salve and changed tactic, “How did someone as young as you become captain?”

“The royal guard was gutted the day Dalyn fell. There were fewer ranks to climb.”

Vaudrin cut in, “He is being modest, your highness.” I glanced at the blond man, who continued, “We all joined the guard well before any boy should be allowed—but the captain has always excelled, they delayed his promotion until he was at least knocking on twenty’s door.”

I finished re-bandaging his leg and moved up to his shoulder.

Quill gave me a pained look when I started plucking the bandage back. I rolled my eyes at him. “And you’re the one who needs rescuing on your first big mission?” I asked as I finished peeling off the bandages and began inspecting the slash. This one was well on its way to healing.

“It’s hardly our first big mission,” replied Quill.

“Where do you think he excelled, your highness?” Vaudrin smiled.

Pursing my lips, I focused on cleaning the sword wound. “You can’t have been more than fifteen or sixteen years old when Dalyn fell!”

“I was fourteen.”

I paused, my fingers poised at his shoulder. Younger than even I was when Galhara fell. Suddenly his story became vivid—like adding salt to stew. I had been sixteen—but born with my rank and taught to fight as a matter of royal schooling. Royal schooling that became entirely practical far before expected or complete. Quill had been even younger when he was pushed into war, and I wondered if he had possessed any of my advantages. I stared at him, “Did you…join right away?” I was afraid to ask the real question: Did his family die, too?

He was looking at the ground, “I did.”

“I’m sorry,” I managed.

Quill met my eyes for a raw moment—and then inclined his head. “What’s lost is lost.”

Our conversation was interrupted by a shattering crack that brought the entire glen to its feet. There was a moment’s confusion as hastily armed men scattered like chaff to cover the area. I started to get up but Quill laid a firm hand on my arm. “Stay, your highness.”

For a split second I was surprised, then I remembered. My brothers were likewise guarded by members of the unit who stood over them like she-bears over cubs. An entire company of Remkos.

A moment later the soldiers returned. Vaudrin came to report, he paused between Quill and Namal uncertainly, then directed his findings at both of them, “We are safe. The draft horse broke the tree branch to which he was tethered. Ripped it right off the tree.”

I shifted as I felt my brothers’ eyes resting on me. Apparently Sinker’s flaw was tying. “Not to worry,” I assured the company quickly—though Quill’s men didn’t know I was responsible for the dysfunctional horses, “he won’t leave—his mind cannot cope with being tied.”

I caught Ayglos hiding a smirk behind his hand.

The soldiers returned to their beds like a flock of sparrows descending on a tree for the night. I turned my attention back to smearing salve on Quill’s shoulder.

Shortly, Ayglos and Namal came to join us; Vaudrin stood and offered them his bedroll to sit on. Once they were settled, Namal said, “Captain, we need to move quickly. I propose that we send some of the men back to Gillenwater to find out what was done with the circus women and our family. If they have sent a raven to Hirhel we have three days, perhaps less, to rescue our people.”

“Agreed, your highness,” said Quill. “Our orders were to return to Dalyn once we accomplished our mission. We will tarry here to aid you, and then will make with all speed back to Dalyn. I hope that you will still make that journey with us.

“I would send Jemin, and with your leave, your sister in disguise. A man and a woman together would be less suspicious. They can take the donkey and behave as travelers.”

Namal considered this. I could see that neither of my brothers were pleased with the idea, but there were clear advantages. With Narya’s men hunting for the rebel soldiers who burned the forges, my chiseled swimmer brothers would surely draw unwelcome attention. Jemin, who had greeted us first when we arrived, was a strapping, bearded man, who could easily be taken for a laborer—a mason or blacksmith perhaps. Add to this that no one brings a woman on a raiding party…

“Zare?” Namal turned to me. “Would you be up for the task?”

“Of course,” I didn’t hesitate.

Namal nodded and bowed his head for a moment. He looked at Ayglos, and then agreed at last. “Very well, Jemin and Zare will go into Gillenwater in the morning.”

*

13-Hook, Line, and Sinker

Galhara was a coastal city that had never been known for its horses—but I had. From childhood I spent as much time with them as I could, and had been known to do really stupid things like wander off and climb on any horse I met in the field. I did not differentiate between trained or untrained. If I wanted to ride a horse I convinced it to let me—usually with nothing more than a rope and patience. Some horses were easier than others, but they all obliged eventually. I, of course, had no idea this wasn’t normal until I was older and people started petitioning the king to let me to help them with their difficult animals.

The Head Groom’s monster was a spectacle in motion with a glossy black coat and a smart eye. He blustered along, tossing his head and threatening to rear every couple steps, barely restrained by the young groom trying to lead him into the corral. He was a fairly young horse—probably five or six years of age—with a well-shaped, muscular body and natural pride in each floating step. And you got an eyeful, too, because once the groom got him into the corral he pulled free and bolted. The other grooms rushed to close the gate—and the hapless handler climbed over it. Leaving me in the corral with a horse who obviously didn’t want to be around people.

“He was shipped here with a couple other horses because the marquis was looking to add some black to his stock,” explained the Head Groom. “None of the lot came with manners at all. We’ve not saddle broken a single one, on account of their wildness, and he’s the worst of them. He’s snapped quite a number of ropes around here—and nearly some hands, too.”

I nodded, keeping my eyes on the horse. Easy enough to believe. Especially two feet of broken lead rope hanging off the horse’s halter. He tore around the circular paddock with his head up, blowing hard at the people on the fence line. He was trying to ignore me, but kept flicking a curious ear in my direction almost in spite of himself. When the black broke stride I’d flap my arms and he’d pick up pace again. We might spend our hour doing this alone, I thought ruefully. I willed myself to forget about time and focus on the colt. Occasionally I’d dart ahead him to make him change his direction—which he didn’t totally appreciate—but mostly I waited. The black was stubborn and brave—they would be good qualities eventually, but for now they kept him running at a steady pace around and around the pen. I hoped he wouldn’t decide to make a day of it. I would feel the miles before he would, and I was already tired. I thoroughly lost track of time—it was just me and the circling black horse—forever in a contest of authority.

Before I expected it, he dropped his head. His jaw relaxed and his flicking ear settled on me attentively.

“That’s it, I’m not going to hurt you,” abruptly I turned away from him, and waited some more. He stopped running the moment I turned away and I listened to him come up behind me at a cautious walk. After a moment’s consideration, he came close and puffed out a breath by my ear. I swiveled and reached a hand to rub his face. He shuddered, but stayed put.

I took a step away from him and he followed. Hooked. I smiled and took a few more steps. He kept following. I stopped and rubbed his forehead again. He sighed heavily, as if the weight of a thousand fat men was slipping off him. “I’ll call you Hook,” I told him.

He didn’t object.

He didn’t object to the saddle and bridle either, nor the rider—though he gave me some extremely skeptical looks. When I slid off his back, Ayglos and the Head Groom entered the round pen.

The Head Groom looked stunned. “If I didn’t know the horse, and didn’t watch you the whole time, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

I patted Hook. “How long did that take?” I asked, pretty sure it was two or three hours of work—at least—could have been all day for all I knew.

“An hour exactly,” replied Ayglos with a lopsided grin.

“Really?”

The Head Groom wiped his forehead. “Really…” He looked the horse up and down. “I guess he’s yours.”

If we didn’t need a horse so badly, the mourning in the groom’s voice would have persuaded me to give my prize back. But Hook was mine, now. The Groom would have to deal with the wrath of the marquis himself if there was wrath to be had.

I stuffed my hands in my pockets. “Have anyone else I can take off your hands?”

By the time Ayglos and I were headed back up the road I’d claimed two more of the useless money eaters from the farm; an impish donkey I’d dubbed Line, for the dorsal stripe and the cross bar on his back, and an aging draft who at this point simply needed to be named Sinker. I wasn’t sure why the Groom was parting with the draft, but it was easy enough to imagine why he would let go the devilish donkey—I overheard something about unlocking all doors and gates.

I rode Hook, Ayglos rode Sinker, and Line trotted along behind us, gamely keeping up with the larger horses. It was late morning, by now, but hopefully our success would convince the others to forgive us the delay. Particularly Namal.

*

12-A Wager

“Ayglos,” I prodded my brother. “Wake up.”

The gray of dawn was spilling into the shadowy places of the woods: I’d slept longer than I intended and we really need to hurry if we were to return before Namal worried. Gabe was on watch, and watching me curiously as I poked my older brother until he opened his eyes and gave me an evil look. “I need your help, come on,” I persisted.

Ayglos sat up and stretched. “What’s going on?” he looked around at our sleeping companions.

“Quill can’t walk like we did yesterday—his leg needs rest!”

“Yes, so? We also need an army and perhaps the help of the Engla.” Ayglos’ voice was thick with sleep and irritation.

I made face, “Quill’s problem is much more easily addressed.”

“Oh?” Ayglos squeezed both hands against his face, as if he were physically pushing his weariness back inside.

I nodded. “Horses.”

Ayglos split his fingers and peered out at me is if he were checking to see if I were serious. “And where are we getting horses?” he asked slowly.

“There are a number of horse farms surrounding Gillenwater.” Obviously. I might have been enjoying his consternation.

“Many of which provide horses to Hirhel,” he replied.

“That hardly matters—it’s not like they have a choice.” I leaned closer, “I have a plan.”

Ayglos lowered his hands and considered me for a moment. “Alright,” he relented. “This had better not take long.”

I didn’t even try to hide my grin as we gathered ourselves up and told Gabe we would be back soon. The circus hand touched his head in salute as we left. Ayglos began to jog and I picked up pace to keep up. “I hope you know of a farm nearby.”

“I do.” I had noticed plenty of horse farms on the journey with the caravan yesterday. Once we dropped out of the forested parts we should have our pick.

“So what’s your plan, exactly?” asked my brother.

“Well, every farm has to have a couple horses they would like to get rid of. We’ll take them off their hands.”

“Are we borrowing or stealing? Because unless you’ve been picking pockets all day we certainly aren’t buying anything.”

“Even if I had, whatever I could afford might need to be carried more than Quill does!”

Ayglos snorted. “Very likely so.”

He fell silent and we jogged down the road to the sounds of birds greeting the sun. Ayglos’s morning preference for solitude and quiet outweighed his desire to know my plan. I didn’t mind. It was a tenuous plan, full of risks. I only hoped the first farm we found would have suitable horses.

We came to a stone wall topped with wood beams. I remembered seeing a large herd in this field yesterday when we came through with the caravan. In a moment we came to a break in the fence line and a narrow lane leading in between the fields. I led the way off the main road and down the lane. The gray morning mist was getting lighter and the landscape was shifting to a rich green. We kept up our jog. This was either a proper road, or a very large farm, I decided. Finally we saw buildings on our left. Corrals, a barn—perhaps a manor house behind that. Another break in the fence gave another narrow lane, this one leading straight to the farm.

We could see people bustling about the barn. Ayglos slowed. “Plan?”

“We’re pilgrims,” I told him, “We’ve been robbed, and one of our number was injured. We lost our pack horse. We need a horse.”

“And they’re supposed to just give it to us?” Ayglos slowed to a walk, admirably restraining the irritation in his voice.

“No. Remember I’m taking the ones they don’t want.”

He looked at me for a second and then understood. “Oh…great.” He sighed, but we kept walking.

“I’ve done it before,” I added. A little hurt by his lack of enthusiasm.

Ayglos grunted. “That’s why we’re not turning around.”

When we got close to the barn a wiry older man came out to meet us. “You’d best be moving on unless you’re looking for hard work with nearly no pay,” he announced when we were in earshot. “We don’t give handouts.”

“We’re not here for handouts,” replied Ayglos—dropping his grumpy morning manner like a cloak in spring. “We have a proposition.”

“Don’t take threats, neither,” said the older man, squinting as we approached. His hair was gray and as wiry as the rest of him. His worn breeches and scuffed boots said that he spent a great deal of time on horseback.

“No threats,” Ayglos held out his hands, palms up, as we came the last few feet to the Head Groom—he could be no one else.

The Head Groom sized us up. “Well, out with it.”

“We are pilgrims,” began Ayglos.

“I can see that,” cut in the groom drily.

“—and we were robbed on the road,” continued Ayglos, unshaken, “out pack horse was stolen and one of our companions was injured.”

“I told you we don’t give handouts,” retorted the groom.

“Our companion cannot make the journey on foot, so we are in search of a horse,” finished Ayglos, ignoring the interruption. “We cannot afford to pay, and know well the value of a beast so we do not ask for charity.”

The Head Groom squinted harder at us. Since we’d ruled out threats and charity, what else was left?

I spoke, “So we’ll place a wager: If I can tame your most difficult horse within an hour, it belongs to me. If I cannot, we leave you in peace.”

The Head Groom laughed, “You can’t be serious.”

Ayglos crossed his arms. “Are you going to take the wager or not?”

Laughter drained from the groom’s face, leaving astonishment, then cynicism. He pointed at me, “If you get hurt or killed, your blood is on your own head.” He turned on his heel and headed into the barn. “Come on,” he cackled, “I gotta see this.”

Both Ayglos and I drew deep breaths as we followed the groom into the barn. I appreciated that my brother said nothing. Having done it before didn’t mean I could do it again with whatever monster the groom had boxed up back here. But I had to try.

*