Friday, February 13, 2009

Learning From Baby Oliver

from Jacqueline

I’ve often drawn parallels between my two passions, and I’ve written about them before on this blog. Yes, there’s a lot to learn about writing from riding, and vice versa. It’s just that sometimes I’m not too good at getting the lesson in a timely fashion – perhaps that’s life. But let’s start with a quote from Monica Dickens (great-granddaughter of Charles):

“Riding is a complicated joy. You learn something each time. It is never quite the same and you never know it all.”

You could easily swap “riding” for “writing.”

Which brings me to my teacher. Oliver.

Before I go on, you will remember Sara, my lovely mare who was in such dire straits about three years ago – I thought I would lose her due to a terrible sinus infection that put her into the equine hospital for over two months (thank you, insurance company!!!). Well, I still have Sara, but last February she managed to injure her leg quite badly. What again? Yes, you get animals and people like that, it’s one thing after another. This time it looked as if Sara would be out of commission for a good eight months.

Anyway, I had been thinking of acquiring a new horse, and envisaged buying a mature, well-trained dressage horse with solid experience in showing, a horse that knew what it was all about and would do it all. I wanted a horse I could learn from. That’s no doubt why I came home with Oliver, a four year-old Friesian who had only been under saddle for, oh, about six months, max. He’d been born and raised in Germany from excellent bloodlines, and had received a top designation as a colt. His experiences had all been good ones, and heck, he was just gorgeous. I fell in love and that was that, he came home with me.

The first thing I found out about him was that he is a messy eater and he makes a lot of noise. Imagine one of those guys in a Carl’s Junior ad, but 1400 lbs, head in a bowl of mush – “Don’t bother me, I’m eating.”

Then the work started and it’s been quite a learning curve. I’ve learned that with a young horse it’s crucial to make a big deal out of any small improvement – such things rarely come in big doses, we get better incrementally. I’ve also learned that most of the time he’s trying really hard to do the right thing, and it’s important to make much out of doing the right thing.

Because I work for myself, from home, I know I have a habit of pushing to get it all done, and now, immediately. As writers we have deadlines, contracts to meet, book tours to work our way through, emails, etc., etc., etc – and I know I am not alone in trying to push the envelope and do more today than I did yesterday, and I will sit at my desk until I meet or surpass my word-count goal for the day. Heck I will sit here, paralyzed bum and all, until those words are written.

But I am learning that you can’t always push it. Here’s what happened last July.

Ollie and I were working with my trainer and were getting near the end of the lesson. Young horses – even strong breeds like Friesians – have to learn to be balanced, have to build strength to carry a rider, and they can tire easily, especially if they are jet black and it’s summer. So we were having a bit of trouble getting something right. We tried several times. I was tired, he was tired, and I wasn’t going to stop until I had that move right. I was so tired, I didn’t do something that can be quite important with young horses, which is re-check the integrity of the girth a couple of times in a training session. The net result was that, eventually, the saddle went one way, and I went the other. Ollie, fortunately, stopped without treading on me with his big horse feet.

And me? I realized why the comic books show stars around the heads of characters who have been knocked out, because I couldn’t see out of my right eye and my head was popping like fireworks (and I was wearing a helmet). My trainer ran up and asked me what month it was, and I said, “Probably November.” Then she asked me the year and I said, “2006.” The next thing I knew, I was in her car and she was telling me that if I wanted to throw up, just try to do it out the window.

As an aside, I found out something really interesting in the emergency room though – that if it’s a Sunday and the radiologist isn’t there to read the brain scan, they send it out into the ether via the internet and a radiologist somewhere in the world will read the scans and give a diagnosis. A guy in Melbourne said I could go home. My own doctor said that if I was a footballer she’d be sidelining me for a couple of months. I will add that the Baby Friesian (as he is affectionately known) has managed to ditch me twice since then, but I promise it will not happen again.

I was out today with dear Ollie and I was putting into practice my new mantra – whatever we do, be happy with the best we can do today. Oliver will be five in June. He could easily live until he’s thirty (which means we’ll probably pop our clogs at the same time). We have many, many more years for us to get better at what we do, and I promise we will have a lot of fun along the way, even when we’re working hard.

And as for my writing, OK, so today I met my goal, and I had a great time. I enjoyed writing every sentence, and I knew exactly where I would go back and work the words – a bit like a potter kneading the clay once it’s on the wheel. Yesterday I only wrote a couple of paragraphs. They weren’t great paragraphs, but they moved the story along and for the most part, I liked them, they brought me to where I needed to be. They could use more work, and they’ll get it, but they were good enough for today. I’ll give myself a treat.

Back in October, Oliver and I went along to our first show. He was a bit of a dingbat at first, I had to run him around to get the over-abundance of excitement out before we went into the arena to do our thing. He made the onlookers laugh with his high-pitched whinnying as we walked past the judges – young horses like to shout out loud to see who’s out there. Made me laugh too, which took away the nerves. And because he came in with ribbons – first place in one class and second in another – he earned extra treats (which he would have had anyway, because he tried hard and we enjoyed ourselves). Here’s the boy on the day – and yes, I am looking a bit serious in this shot, I know. But here’s what the judge said in her notes: Horse and rider show great potential. I stuck that on the wall, for the days I forget that we’re all just trying our best, whatever the outcome.

So, that’s it from me today. Have a lovely weekend. On Monday I begin a book tour to mark publication of AMONG THE MAD (my tour schedule is listed at - If you can come along to one of the events, I’d love to see you and everyone you have ever known in your entire life,). In the meantime, here’s the quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland that inspired the title:

'But I don’t want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.

'Oh, you can’t help that,' said the Cat. 'We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.'

'How do you know I’m mad?' said Alice.
You must be,” said the Cat. 'or you wouldn’t have come here.'”

Bit like visiting us here at!

PS: And I should add that the diva-mare, Sara, is back in action and as opinionated as ever. She’s not a bit jealous of Ollie, mainly because she thinks he’s a young whippersnapper who’s got a long way to go.

PPS: I had second thoughts about that Kindle, Paul - and canceled it. Suspected that within a year the prices will drop and there might even be more to choose from on the market. That, and I have a hungry horse to feed.


  1. I know nothing about horses, so just reading your post is a learning experience. (I know a little about getting whacked in the head and think "Probably November" would be a helluva title for an autobiography.)

    Those of us in Los Angeles look forward to your bookstore visits next weekend.

  2. Yes, Our J, looking forward to seeing you in L.A. You and Ollie look very dashing together. However, next time we expect a YouTube video. Now that you cancelled Kindle, you have time to figure out moving pictures. :O)

  3. from Jacqueline

    Paul, I might well use "Probably November" one day, when I pen my memoirs! Thanks for the idea. Patty, I am not sure Ollie and I are ready for prime time via YouTube - but we're working on it, heaven knows we're working on it.

  4. oh jackie, i'm sure there are much worse things on youtube that you and that handsome horse of your. so don't be shy..........

    good luck on you booktour, i'm looking forward to read AMOMG THE MAD.

    stay safe and fly carefully,

  5. oh god, i need a provereader!!!!!!!!!

  6. I'll take learning about writing over learning about iding any day.

    That's a tough hobby.


  7. from Jacqueline

    Lovely to hear from you again, Sybille. And thanks for the good luck wishes for the book tour - I am not a good flyer, so to land, anywhere, is a good thing!

    Jim, the writing or the riding, they both come with challenges, good days, not-so-good days, and their own rewards. Mind you, as hard as I work at my writing, it's never given me a concussion. A headache, maybe ....

  8. I was skimming down the page, and thought, "Wow what an incredible photo of a horse and rider Jackie found!" Moments later, of course, read "Here’s the boy on the day – and yes, I am looking a bit serious in this shot...

    Wow., Jackie.

    I just might have to go a little horse mad myself one day.

  9. from Jacqueline

    Jeff, what a great thing to say. I'm pretty proud of my Oliver, he's a gem and he looks very nice when he's cleaned up (as opposed to when he's just rolled in the mud). His father is a champion stallion, and really looks the business, so I think Oliver will mature to be quite a looker, in a horsey kind of way!

  10. What a beautiful shot of you and Oliver! He's quite the handsome young thing, isn't he?

  11. Thank you, Fran. Yes, he is very handsome, and is a real love-bug. Apparently, at the farm where he was raised in Germany, he was a favorite with the owner's twelve-year-old daughter, who rode him when he was first under saddle - and she must have lavished affection on him because this horse loves nothing more than your arms around his neck and a big old hug! You wouldn't want to do that after he's been eating though, because he is a really, really messy and noisy eater.

  12. Isn't Ollie a dashing bit of young elegance? And Jacqueline, you have an elegant 'seat'. Beautiful photo of you both. :-D

    I picked up Among the Mad on Thursday night at the bookstore and the prerequisite victory lap. I've read the opening chapters and then had to put it down to go to a convention this weekend in Boston. No time to read as we were way to busy, although I took it with me. Love the new directions Maisie is going in.

    BTW, I scored a big pile of vintage mystery novels off the freebie table at said convention. So much great stuff to plow through AFTER I read Maisie's latest adventure! I've had several people come up to me in recent months to say that my body of work review that I did of your novels made them go and buy the books and they are now dedicated fans of Maisie. Glad to be of service. :-D

    The hard bits of dealing with my mum in law's funeral is over with, and it's back to book business - ie contracts - tomorrow, interspersed with estate settlements and disbursements. Sigh. I think I need a holiday. Have just taken yet another painkiller for my back...

    Best to you all, my dears,