Thursday, April 24, 2014

Taking bets on horses

By Gayle Carline
Mystery Author and Horse Show Competitor

While you are reading this, I am in Burbank, California at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. I've been there since 6:30 in the morning, which meant I had to get up at 5 a.m. to dress and make the hour-long drive from my house.

Have I ever told you I'm not a morning person?

Me before coffee.

As much as I hate getting up early, I love showing my horse. It's a kind of quiet excitement at the show. You wait for your class, then you hurry up and get you and your horse ready, then you get to the arena and warm-up. Then you wait until your number is called and you perform for the judges.

Me and Snoopy at the Del Mar Arena

It's about two hours' worth of work for a three-minute ride.

Many people have a narrow vision of horse riding. They think jumping is the only equine sport (not true), and that everyone wants to ride their horse in a parade (also not true). When I told one woman that I show my horse, she actually said, "Like in the circus?"

Really not true.

Not jumping, not parading, not in the circus.

There are two types of horse shows. One is a breed show, like Arabian or Quarter horses. At breed shows, there are many types of events, and you can show your horse in any of them. Your only requirements are that you have proof that your horse is registered as that breed, and that you are a member of the breed's organization. The other kind of show is purely an organization show. You must belong to the organization, but they don't care what kind of horse you have. These shows are typically, but not always, event-driven, like jumping or dressage. Think Olympics.

MURDER ON THE HOOF, my latest mystery/romantic-suspense is set at an American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) horse show. It will be released in May and I am both excited and frightened. Not a lot of folks are into the equine world, and maybe a romance combined with murder and mystery and secrets galore will not be enough to coax non-horsey people to enter my world.

Still, I am in love with the story and I will remain its loyal servant. I think it's the perfect horse story for people who aren't into horses - all the excitement with none of the smells.

Here's a snippet to whet your appetite. You can read more on May 21 (for Kindle), or order it in paperback on May 24.

* * * * *

Willie felt the push of the mare’s rising back end, then the upward roll of her shoulders. In a few strides, Belle settled into a gentle rocking-horse rhythm. Willie kept her butt digging into the saddle, her left hand trying not to pull up on the reins, and her right hand trying to stay on her leg. Every four strides or so, she reminded herself to breathe.

It takes a lot of work to look this relaxed, she thought.

There was a cluster of young riders at the end of the arena, sitting around on their horses and talking. Not certain if there was room to pass, and not wanting to disturb them, Willie turned across the arena early.

“Hey, watch out,” a man’s voice barked at her.

She looked up to see the same man who’d nearly run into Emily, now barreling toward her like a freight train. Her first impulse was to stop. She raised the reins and breathed, “Ho,” but saw that she was stopping in his direct path. Her second reaction was pure adrenalin—she kicked the mare, who leaped forward and took off running.

All thoughts of how to ride disappeared from Willie’s brain. She braced her weight into her stirrups and pulled on the reins. The effect was not what she wanted. Belle raised her head and yanked forward, adding a hopping motion to her gallop. Willie grabbed the horn, trying to push herself back into the saddle. Her body shifted to the right with each bump. The rapid jostling kept her powerless to either stop the horse or get back in the middle of it.

Damned if I’m gonna come off. With one final thrust, she shoved her body left and down. Belle slowed for a moment, allowing Willie to bend her knees and sit back. The pair settled to a stop. What felt like a ten-minute nightmare was probably not even worth a rodeo’s eight seconds.

Willie let out a deep sigh and looked down at Belle’s head. Tyler and Emily were already at her side.

“I’m so—” Willie began, then choked on the word “sorry.” I’m such an idiot.

“It’s not your fault,” Emily said, helping her off the horse. “Bobby Fermino is a horse’s ass.”

The golden horse trotted over to them, carrying the smiling Bobby. “I’m so sorry. Are you okay, Miss…?”

Unlike Tyler, his dark eyes bored into her with an intimacy she did not welcome. “Willie,” she managed to force out.

Emily scolded him. “Bobby, you’ve really got to be aware of other riders. My client is a novice, trying out a new horse.”

“Again, my apologies, Willie.” Turning to Emily, he added, “Perhaps you should find a quieter arena for your less experienced riders. Are you horse shopping? I have a little gelding with me that might be more suitable for such a petite lady.” He looked at Willie again and smiled, then called out, “Denny, get the roan out.”

She glanced over at the side of the arena. A dark-eyed, tanned young man in skinny jeans and a fitted olive green T-shirt nodded, then hopped into a golf cart and headed toward the barns. Denny, no doubt.

Bobby wheeled his horse around and galloped across the arena, cutting off another rider. Willie turned to Emily.

“I feel so stupid.”

“Don’t. He took you by surprise. Yeah, you could have done a lot of things better, but at least you stayed on.”

“Barely.” Willie sighed. “I just didn’t want to come off, not in front of these people.” Especially not in front of Tyler Handsome.

Emily put her arm around Willie’s shoulder and gave her a squeeze. “There’s a Mexican proverb—‘It’s not enough for a man to know to ride; he must know how to fall.’”
* * * * *
BeeTeeDubs, the show I'll be at is called the Hollywood Charity Horse Show. Bill Shatner will be there - it's cool!


  1. I love that you have this passion. Readers will feel the authenticity of the world you create easily... and you could well be on your way to being the new Dick Francis!

    1. We'll see... I wrote this book because everyone kept asking me why I don't put horses in my mysteries. Turns out, I really liked the characters who showed up, and the mystery that unfolded. Maybe I'll find something else for them to do.

  2. Great taster. Think I've met those characters. As an equestrian journalist turned thriller writer always glad to know there are others out there... although my first novel was set against eventing. Sequel is against endurance with a bit of barrel racing. Look forward to reading yours when it comes out.


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