Stubborn as a Mule

Mule.

Most of the time on this blog, I talk about things related to horses. Today I’m going to discuss another type of equine – mules.

We’ve all heard expressions such as “stubborn as a mule” and “mule-headed,” implying that mules are uncooperative and unpleasant. If they actually are that bad, why were they developed in the first place and why are some people so devoted to them?

Mules are a hybrid cross between a donkey and a horse. Usually a donkey stallion (jack) and a horse mare because the mother has the most influence on the size of the offspring. A hinney is produced by breeding a horse stallion to a donkey and is usually smaller. (Both are referred to as mules.) Almost all mules are two mulessterile due to having an odd number of chromosomes (63). VERY rarely a mare mule may reproduce, but there is no record of a fertile mule stallion.

Mules come in all shapes and sizes from minis (36”) to drafts (17 hands). The average size is slightly smaller than a horse. However they have the hardiness and endurance of a donkey, which made them invaluable for farming and carrying cargo. President George Washington was convinced that they were superior to horses for agricultural work and devoted a lot effort to developing a useful breed of mules. He’s considered the “father of American mules.”

 

While tractors and mechanization reduced the mules’ role on the farm, they are still valued for their ability to carry weight. All over the world they still serve as pack animals, transporting cargo in areas where vehicles can’t go. Due to their sure-footedness, they are invaluable in mountainous areas. They are used for packing trips, carry riders down into the Grand Canyon, and even pack muletransport military supplies in the Afghanistan.

Today, at least in the Western world, they are mostly used for pleasure. Mules can do anything a horse can and are now being shown in every type of class from English and Western Pleasure to Dressage and Reining. They even have their own exclusive event, known as the Coon Hunter’s Jump. In the South, farmers would hunt raccoons that were raiding their farms and during the chase would often encounter wire fences which were hard to see. So they’d put a coat or blanket over the wire and ask their mules to jump over from a standing start. The mules are so good at this type of jumping it evolved into a contest. Instead of running up to a jump as horses do, the mules clear up to six feet from a stand still!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO-ULQOzV6s

What about the reputed stubbornness? It depends on who you ask. Mules are extremely intelligent – some say smarter than horses due to the hybrid vigor that also makes them stronger. They tend to have strong opinions about things. While horses can be literally worked to death, a mule will stop and say “no more.” They also will not accept harsh handling. So someone who tries to force a mule will encounter stiff resistance. But if you “ask” you can get a very willing, loyal partner. Many people dearly love their mules and prefer them to horses.

I once went on a day long trail ride on a Tennessee Walking Horse mule. While she didn’t gait, she did have a wonderful, ground-covering walk that was very comfortable to ride. How about you? Have you had any experiences with a mule? Gone into the Grand Canyon or packed into the mountains?

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Mule photo credit: http://tinyurl.com/oh37tl5
Pack mule: http://tinyurl.com/nzezt8s
Two mules photo credit: http://tinyurl.com/m8lvtde

 

Categories: animals, Coon Hunter's Jump, Horses, Jumping, Mules, nature, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Living With Animals

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Jennifer Skully author photoMy guest today is the wonderful Jasmine Haynes, AKA Jennifer Skully. She does such a great job introducing herself, I’m just going to let her take it away.

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Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Kate! It’s a pleasure!

Just to let all you of you know who I am, I write humorous romantic mysteries as Jennifer Skully and classy, sexy romances as Jasmine Haynes. I love to include animals in my stories. My latest book, Can’t Forget You (by Jennifer Skully), features a lovable dog named Samson. He grew on me to the point that I had to give him his own voice in the story! In Somebody’s Ex (by Jasmine Haynes), Randi Andersen has a Norwegian Elkhound just like my very own dog, Star. And in another of my Jennifer Skully books, It Must Be Magic, my heroine talks to animals, with a special affinity for cats.

I could go on and on, but I really wanted to talk to you about living with animals, the great joy as well as the trials and tribulations. I have always lived with animals, from dogs and cats, hamsters, gerbils, birds, rabbits, fish, and a husband. Oh wait! He doesn’t count as a pet, does he! For the last 18 years, we’ve lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains, so we’ve had lots of feral cats adopt us, too.

For the most part, we’ve had cats. Over the years we’ve been home to many (not all at the same time, of course!): Buddy, Gort (so named because my husband and I love the old movie The Day the Earth Stood Still and Gort was the robot), Louis (she was named for Louis Leakey because she liked to sleep in what we called the Olduvai Gorge between my husband and I at night), Boneyard (because she was starved and all skin and bones when she came to us), Eddie (who was named for Eddie Munster because he truly terrorized his sisters Louis and Boneyard), CT (short for Crooked Tail because she had a big bend in her tail), and Whitey (because he’s black and we had to differentiate him from CT who was also black). And of course, there was wonderful Star, our Norwegian Elkhound.CT Sun Cat 1

I love my animals to sleep with me and stay in my office beside me while I do my work. And when I’m outside on the deck or in the atrium writing on my word processor, I love to have them out there with me, too. There’s just something so calming about a furry friend right near you. Of course, they can be a nuisance, too. Eddie Munster was such a cool cat to human beings, but he terrorized Louis and Boneyard. We have very high ceilings with rafters, and Boneyard sat up on a rafter so that Eddie couldn’t get her. Or she’d climb up my clothes in the closet and sit on the highest shelf. Louis couldn’t take it unfortunately and she ran away. Eddie and Star tolerated each other, except the time Star was sleeping with me on the couch, and Eddie walked right over her as if she were part of the sofa. That didn’t go over well, let me tell you. But no matter the nuisance they are, they always give you so much love. Star was such a sweet dog. She loved to walk with me in the redwood park, and she was always with me wherever I was in the house. And of course she slept on the bed along with the cats. Sometimes, I’d have a cat at my back, one at my knees, and Star in the middle between my husband and I (she liked the Olduvai Gorge, too).

The unfortunate thing about living in the mountains is that we have a lot of predators. We tried to keep them inside, but the cats wanted to be outside during the day, sleeping on the deck in the sunshine, even visiting the neighbors. My neighbor built a pass-through in the fence so the cats could sleep on her deck, too. Of course we always brought them in at night. But eventually we lost Buddy and Gort to the wild creatures. Louis came to live with us, but Eddie drove her out. I wonder if there’s a moral there, maybe 3 cats are too many. Or maybe you shouldn’t mix male and female. Boneyard wouldn’t come in one night when I called her, and we lost her, too. Eddie died 3 years later of stomach cancer. On a cold winter’s night shortly after Eddie passed on, CT moved inside. She was a smart little thing and knew how to steer clear of predators. She was a stray, but not feral, and was always very friendly to us. We have a flat roof and she slept up there so the coyotes couldn’t find her. Once she moved inside, she and Star were very companionable, sleeping on the bed together. She was a dream cat. I didn’t even need a cat box because she was like a dog and I let her out to go to the bathroom.

Jan 09 download 053Then tragedy struck and our Star died very suddenly. She had a brain tumor which literally took her in 4 days. We had no clue. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her. Although later the vet said that she’d been walking on her toes, which was a symptom. But it was a terrible shock. I don’t think I would have gotten through it if CT hadn’t been living with us and given us all her love and healing powers. She gave us another wonderful year and a half after that, but then she succumbed to intestinal cancer. My husband and I gave her subcutaneous fluids and put her on steroids, but alas, there was nothing we could do to save her.

After losing CT a year and a half ago, my husband and I decided we could no longer have animals. It’s too painful to lose them. Six cats and a dog was too much for us to take. We decided we’d have our little feral cat Whitey and that was it. Whitey loves our food and our deck, but he doesn’t love us. He won’t get within more than about 10 feet. And that’s after 5 years of coming 2 to 3 times a day for food. A year and a half with no loving animals in the house! Oh wait, we babysit my sister’s dog Elvis. He’s the cutest poodle. But still, he wasn’t ours. Still, we kept saying we just couldn’t stand the heartbreak again.

WrigleySo who do you think caved first? My husband! He’s such a softie. He dragged me to the SPCA. And there we found Wrigley (so named because she likes to wriggle around on the carpet, rolling all over and begging us to scratch her tummy). She was 7 months old when we got her, and 5 months later, she’s the darling of our lives. She sleeps with us, she lays on my desk while I’m working, and sits under my chair in the atrium. I do wish we could teach her to go outside to use the bathroom like CT, but so far, we’re keeping the cat box. The atrium is an enclosed area where no predators can get to her, but she still gets the sun. Gort used to be able to climb out of the atrium, but I’m hoping Wrigley won’t figure that out. Besides, to her, the atrium is huge after having lived in a tiny box for the first 7 months of her life. She’s adorable.

So the message of this long story is that despite the inevitable loss of our beloved pets, they bring so much joy and love into our lives. Despite the fact that I’ll have to go through the pain again, it’s still worth everything to have them here with us right now, bringing the sunshine into our lives. In fact, my husband has a summer cold, and Wrigley’s right next to him on the bed giving him comfort.

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And here’s a look at Jennifer Skully’s latest, Can’t Forget You.

cantforgetyou_300There’s something very special about the house Maggie grew up in. It’s sort of…alive. With a mind of its own.

And it has plans for the people living there now.

All Maggie Halliday has left after the divorce is the family dog and the home her grandmother left to her when she passed away two months ago. Maggie’s got no other choice but to run back to her hometown of Cottonmouth, California, only to discover her high school sweetheart, Cooper Trubek, is living in the house, along with four other boarders for whom Maggie is now responsible. And according to Nana’s will, Maggie can’t kick any of them out.

Unless one of them commits murder.

Still grieving for her grandmother and trying fix up the house that seems to be falling down around her, Maggie’s got more trouble than she can handle. Then things go from bad to worse when Samson the dog starts digging in the basement…

 

Jasmine Haynes’s erotic romance Take Your Pleasure is free until the end of July on Kindle and most other retailers.

http://amzn.to/1kZ9es1

 

 

Categories: animals, Books, Cats, dogs, Dogs and cats, humorous mystery, Mystery, romance, Romantic suspense, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 24 Comments

A Mongolian Adventure

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My guest today is Paula Boer from New South Wales, Australia. My first visitor from Down Under!

Paula at homePaula started her lifelong love of horses at age 7 when she first rode a pony on a ranch in Canada. Two years later in England, she started weekly riding lessons and became hooked. She competed in many horse disciplines, caught and broke in brumbies, and mustered on remote cattle stations in Australia. Her Brumbies children’s series is based on her own experiences with wild horses. Set in the Snowy Mountains of Australia, the first of the series, Brumbies, became an Amazon ‘Best Seller’ in 2012. Her most recent book Brumbies In The Outback has just been released.

But today, instead of talking about those experiences, she’s going to tell us about a fascinating adventure among the horse people of Mongolia. Take it away Paula.

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Turning forty is a major milestone. Wanting to escape the possibilities of surprise parties or reminders of creeping age, I jokingly said to my husband I wanted to go to Outer Mongolia. It wasn’t only the remoteness that appealed to me, but the fact that the country has more horses than people. So we went.

Mongolia 2Horses canter around us across the open grasslands. Their hogged manes and lean hides accentuate their movements, muscles taut and necks stretched low. Riders of all sizes wave their arms, flap their legs and twitch the long ends of their reins to gain that extra effort from their mount.

The annual horse races in Mongolia are a splash of colour against a backdrop of rolling green hills. Clothes and tack are made from assorted materials knotted together or tied with rawhide. Our guide tells us that many competitors have ridden for hours to come to this event. The horses will race more than once over a distance of forty kilometres before being ridden home again.

The horses respond instantly to every command – spinning, barging, galloping or sliding to a halt to gain advantage over the other competitors. Riders jostle amidst an equally raucous crowd cheering on their favourites and shouting advice. The race winds over hills, through rivers and down valleys, the riders knowing the route from experience. No specific tracks mark the way. Cheers and jeers announce the invisible finish line where horses are swamped to be cared for in preparation for the next race.

The day after the race I had my chance to ride these tough horses. Despite having competed the day before, the ponies felt keen as we mounted up. I cantered through flowers that grew as high as my horse’s nose. Suddenly there was much shouting. Turning to see what the commotion was, I was signalled to return. Believing the situation urgent, I galloped back to the anxious guides. I pulled up as they leapt from their horses. Grinning, they indicated my girth had come undone and was dragging on the ground!

That event resulted in a comradeship I hadn’t sensed before. We climbed through vast stands of conifers, the smell of pine needles rising from under the horses’ hooves. We crossed grasslands where the horses nibbled seed heads as they walked. Herds of horses dotted amongst the lush feed in every valley.

Mongolia 3We learned that everyone in Mongolia can ride. There are more horses than people. There are statues of horses, horses carved into musical instruments and furniture, even drawings of horses on their banknotes. Horses provide transport, entertainment, food, drink and income.

There are no fences. The herds roam freely, ownership identified by brands. Twice a day the mares come in to feed their foals tied to lines in rows. The mares are milked for human consumption before the foals are permitted to drink. Children nurture the foals that are to be theirs, creating a lifelong bond. I can’t think of a better way to live.

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Brumbies in the Outback

Brumbies Outback book 4Ben and Louise discover that life on a remote cattle station is very different to their Snowy Mountains home. Missing her horse, Honey, Louise struggles to adapt to the outback. Ben has a graver concern: he is desperate to prove that Brandy, his stallion, is fit after a serious leg injury, otherwise he may be destroyed. From mustering and working cattle, to tracking and taming desert brumbies, both friends are challenged by their experiences.

http://www.amazon.com/Brumbies-Outback-Paula-Boer-ebook/dp/B00KH07Y16
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/440143
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/brumbies-in-the-outback-paula-boer/1119582978?ean=2940045958257

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Excerpt:

As the sun rose higher, more and more cattle thronged in to the mob. Ben had forgotten how slow a muster started. There had been little for him to do with the experienced stockmen chasing back cattle that didn’t want to stop. Although he’d hoped to have a chance to chat to Jacinta, they needed to keep their separate posts. Looking across to where Louise sat on Splash, he thought she seemed relaxed in the shade. The pony appeared to be asleep; an old hand at this game, he knew he’d need his energy for later.

A shrill whistle alerted Ben. Graeme signaled for them to start walking the cattle out. He had explained earlier how he wanted everyone to work—Ben and Jacinta on the wings, the head stockman and one other in the lead, and Louise with the remainder of the riders on the tail. They planned to keep the cattle close together and move at the pace of the slowest calves.

Ben’s chestnut mare pranced as she closed with a large Brahman bull, his neck hump wobbling with each step. Pushing his horse into the bull’s shoulder, Ben guided the old male back towards the mob. He turned without complaint, lumbering his great bulk with plodding steps. Pleased how his horse responded to his leg aids, Ben patted her neck.

Settling in for a long walk, Ben rode automatically, watching the cattle for any that might try to stray. Every so often, another small group would come running in from the scrub to join the herd, chased from far away by the buzzing helicopter. The heat had returned to the day and dust clung to his sweaty skin. Ben took a long swig from his canteen, letting some of the cool water dribble down his chin. While trying to re-secure his water bottle, the chestnut mare shied.

“Whoa! Steady there!” Ben slipped sideways, almost coming off. Grabbing the mane, he hauled himself back into the saddle. Overhead, a kite flew low with a snake in its claws, the writhing body of its meal casting shadows over the horse. The reptile had been easy prey while slithering away from the thousands of hooves trampling the dust.

“So that’s what spooked you.” Ben shortened up his reins and sat deep, preventing the mare from bolting as she continued to panic. As he brought her back under control, the helicopter appeared from behind a small bluff with a roar.

Too much for the green horse, she snatched at the bit and broke into a gallop.

Categories: adventure, animals, Australia, Brumbies, Horses, Mongolia, riding, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Body Language of Horses – Part 2

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Last time I focused on the front of the horse—ears, mouth, face. Today I’m going to talk about the other end. The rear is the other important area to be aware of because it’s the most dangerous. The two important indicators are the tail and the legs and feet.

A tail is like a flag, signaling safety or danger. Hanging softly while standing still or waving slightly small_2431865552when moving usually shows the horse is relaxed and comfortable. A tail stuck up straight, combined with a high head, indicates an alert or excited animal. You often see high tails when horses are playing and even ones curled over the backs of exuberant Arabians. A horse will sometimes clamp its tail, just like a dog does, when it is frightened and trying to protect its vulnerable areas. Or it could be clamping to protect against cold water when being bathed. J

In the summer when there are flies about, horses swish their tales to chase away the pests. Usually, this is a fairly lazy motion, but sometimes it can have some force as anyone who has been hit in the face can attest. However this is quite different from a rapidly slapping tail that indicates the horse is angry or upset about something. Be very careful when you see this. A kick may follow if you aren’t careful.

A kick can be quite powerful and damaging. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of a frightened or angry blow. On the other hand, often kicks are just warnings and have no power behind them and/or are not intended to connect. Horses often cock their legs as a threat and may medium_132910292even kick out but not actually hurt another horse. Most of the time they kick out of fear and to defend themselves.

This is one reason you don’t want to startle a horse. You always should talk to horse if you come up behind them to let them know you’re there. This goes doubly for touching them unexpectedly. A defensive blow that another horse might barely notice can be much more damaging to a human. One of my horses, after spending most of the day being bathed, shaved, having her mane pulled (which she hated) and braided, and getting thoroughly primped for a show, had simply had enough. Her patience had run out. When my trainer bent down to adjust a rear leg wrap, the horse lightly tapped her on the leg, not trying to hurt, simply telling her to go away. Unfortunately, she hit the trainer’s shin and that did hurt like blazes.

There’s one other thing I’d like to mention about protecting yourself from being kicked. It’s actually much safer to be close to the horse than back a ways. If you’re next to the horse, a kick will be more like a push. If you’re father away, you can get the full force of the blow. You’ll notice most horsemen keep their hands on a horse. This lets the animal know where they are and person can immediately feel any changes in the horse’s body, such as tensing to kick or move.

IMAG0335I mentioned before that a horse might cock its leg in threat. They also cock their legs when they’re relaxed and comfortable. You can tell the difference by reading the whole body language. Is the body braced and tensed? Be careful. Or is the body slack and loose? He’s probably dozing. If he’s dancing around, he’s excited and maybe fearful. So what it comes down to is you need to be aware of your horse and learn to read his body language. Horses have different personalities and you need to learn to interpret his particular dialect.

Categories: animals, horse body language, horse care, horse personalities, Horses, How horses talk, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Summer Splash Blog Hop!

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Summer Splash Blog Hop.

And the Winners Are:

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$10 Amazon Gift Card

Mizztara71

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E-copy of Wyoming Escape or Forewarning

Maggie Steel

Ellis Dream

Jonesjar

Liese1235

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Thanks to everyone for taking part. Good luck with the other contests!

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Welcome to the 2014 Summer Splash Blog Hop!

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For four days, June 13-16, you can enter to win Kindle Paperwhites, books (many signed), gift cards, jewelry, copy and line edits, and lots more. 

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Click on the Summer Splash image to go to the main page with the list of all the blogs. Visit each one to discover exciting new authors AND maybe win one of the giveaways each is offering! We even have a special prize entry for anyone who hops around to every single site during the hop
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I will be giving away a $10 Amazon gift card and four e-copies of my books. The book winners will have a choice of WYOMING ESCAPE or FOREWARNING.

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Simply leave a comment at the bottom of the page to enter my contest. Be sure to include your EMAIL ADDRESS so I can contact you if you’re a winner.

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Here are a couple of short excerpts to whet your interest.

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Wyoming Cover - 5.3x8Mikela stared at the departing cop. How had he gotten into the Kitchen? No way had she left the door unlocked. Even more important, was he coming back? One thing she knew for sure, this time she would refuse to answer any questions until her lawyer arrived.

Worried about the idea of someone snooping around in her business, she trotted to the entrance and opened the door. A familiar acrid odor hit her nose. What the hell?

She hurried down the short, dimly lit hallway to her office. The smell was stronger there and mixed with another much more unpleasant stench—one she had encountered yesterday. She gasped at the state of the room. Papers littered every surface, her file cabinet drawers gaped open and a dark stain spread across the carpet, emanating from the body of a man lying on the floor.

Sam Braddock, the man from the park, lay huddled on his side, his face slack, his eyes glassy. A gun—the.38 Special her grandfather had given her—lay on the rug near the desk.

Mikela’s vision wavered; she staggered backwards and slid down the wall, staring at the lithograph of Paris behind her desk, a symbol of happy times. Paris was safe, Paris was beautiful. Nothing bad happened in Paris. This can’t be happening.

One glance down told her it was real. She pressed her lips together, struggling not to scream, and scrambled to her feet. No one who had lost that much blood could be alive. Yet she crouched over Braddock and felt for a pulse. There was none.

She stood again and stared at the dead man. Why was he in her office? Even more important, why had he been killed—with her gun?

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Forewarning CoverKasey frowned and tilted her head. What the heck had startled her awake and sent her pulse racing? She focused her thoughts and reached out with her mind, briefly touching the energy fields of the animals in her care. The horses in both pastures were dozing in their lean-tos, ignoring the storm. In the barn, her stallion Sundancer was awake but unconcerned. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She lay back, pulled the quilt up around her shoulders, and willed herself to relax. At least tonight it hadn’t been the nightmare about Brian that disturbed her sleep.

Her breathing had almost returned to normal when a flash of lightning lit up the room and a blast of thunder shook the house. With a yelp of terror, Goliath leaped on the bed and clawed at the blankets, trying to burrow under her arm. Kasey cuddled him close and let him stay. She knew how much he hated loud noises, particularly thunder and gunshots.

Eventually her pulse calmed and she drifted off. But images of fire and pain wracked her dreams, disturbing her sleep. Her legs began a restless twitching, pulling her awake once again. The earlier heart-pounding anxiety returned, too. Her apprehension increased when she swung out of bed. Then she felt it. Something was wrong with the horses.

She grabbed a flashlight from her nightstand and rushed across the chilly room to the window. Rain blotted out everything beyond the porch. Foreboding tightened her chest and restricted her breathing. Whatever was going on was serious.

She concentrated on the agitated feelings surging toward her and recognized Star’s distinctive energy. Kasey sensed no pain, so the mare wasn’t hurt. However, she was frantic about something.

A sudden wave of pain hit her, sending needles through her hand and stomach and setting her head throbbing. She gasped and braced herself against the windowsill. Someone—a man and a stranger by the unfamiliar feel—was badly hurt. That was why Star woke her. The mare sensed his pain.

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Don’t forget to leave your CONTACT INFO with your comment !

 

 

 

Categories: alternative medicine, blog hops, Books, Dude ranches, energetic healing, Horses, Mystery, Paranormal, romance, Romantic suspense, suspense, Uncategorized, Western romance, Wyoming | 38 Comments

Ally Shields

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Today I’m interviewing Ally Shields, author of the Guardian Witch series. Her most recent release is Fire Storm, book five in her paranormal urban fantasy set. We’re having fun with some serious and not so serious questions.

If you were an animal, what kind would you be?

This is an easy one. I’d love to be a horse, a wild one that ran free in the American West when there were no fences. I think they are the most spectacular animals on earth, and there is nothing more beautiful than to watch them run.
I couldn’t agree more.

What books would you take with you to a desert island?

Tolkien’s Trilogy, a stack of Georgette Heyer’s regency romances, a pile of Agatha Christies, and JD Robb’s Eve Dallas series. I’d still run out quickly, so I hope I would get rescued in the first week or two.

What prompted you to write your book?

I started out to write a traditional mystery, but soon realized my heroine was a witch. I had read several paranormals just before that but couldn’t find any new ones I hadn’t read. So I wrote Awakening the Fire (Guardian Witch Book 1) because that’s what I wanted to read. I kept writing the series to find out what happened to Ari and Andreas and their friends. I never know exactly how a story is going to go until I write it.

What’s your favorite room in your house?

My office, which is the most creative place.

What is your writing process?

My stories always begin with the characters. Once I know my characters well, I can picture where they’d live and what kind of story they would get involved in; then I start writing and allow each character to tell me their part.

Do you have any unusual writing habits?

I don’t do anything weird like stand on my head or write in the nude, but I think we all have our quirks. I tend to be a slave-driver until the first draft is finished and maybe the first self-edit, then I begin to dawdle through the next few passes until I’m thoroughly sick of the story. It’s still hard to let it go, and every time I look at it I begin to “tweak,” changing a word here, a sentence there. Eventually I have to just say “enough” and hit the submit button.

Coffee or tea? Beer or wine? Sweet or tart?

Coffee, black. Wine, mostly red, but I won’t turn down a good white. I even like white Zin. Sweet definitely, but I also love the combination of sweet and tart.

What’s your next project?

I currently have two books in edit: Wild Fire (Guardian Witch 6) and Cross Keys (an elven urban fantasy), and I have just started the first draft of Circle of Fire, book 7, the final chapter in my Guardian Witch series. I’m already obsessing about saying goodbye to these characters.

What types of books do you like to read?

I read mysteries, urban fantasies, thrillers and romantic suspense. I also have a weakness for regency romances like those of Heyer that are full of humor and wit. Since I was recently in New Orleans, I’ve been indulging in New Orleans’ paranormals, especially those with ghosts!

Thanks for a fun interview! I’m looking forward to your next books.

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FireStorm_ByAllyShields-453x680Sometimes you just need to stay alive to fight another day.

Six months ago Ari moved in with the vampire prince Andreas. They defied the vampire elders in Europe, killed their enforcer, and have waited for retaliation that never came.

Until now.

On a trip to Italy, Andreas is captured by the vampire rulers, the notorious O-Seven, and taken in chains to their stronghold in Germany. Ari goes after him, even though it’s against the orders of her Magic Council. She is fired for her actions, losing her special Guardian powers at a time she needs them most.

But the vampire rulers are not through with her or with those who attempt to help her. They launch attacks in Europe and at home in Riverdale. Ari is forced to fight them on several fronts, and victory grows increasingly uncertain.

Her last chance to rescue Andreas is a daring plan that places her in the hands of the O-Seven and relies on untested witch magic, the final hope for their survival.

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“The scent stops here,” Ramon said. “They followed it to some kind of circle drawn on the ground, where it ended. To be certain, they’ve searched a half mile radius.”

Samuel and Ramon pulled back the brush, and the group entered the clearing. Ari drew back a step. An oppressive black aura, a dark thundercloud of haze, hung over the immediate area. She didn’t say anything, because the others couldn’t see it, but other remnants of the sorcery circle were obvious to all. The scent of sulfur, the ring of ashes. She moved forward to examine the ash used to draw the circle and recoiled in disgust. Human ashes. Not unexpected because the ability to teleport was produced by a dark arts spell. The most complex spells required a level of power typically achieved through human sacrifice or at least the use of human remains.

She stood and walked the circle. Sophistrina’s coven used black magic to teleport, but this wasn’t big enough to hold thirteen witches. This ring held no more than five or six creatures, and some of them had been werebears. And Sophistrina didn’t use human remains. At least not when Ari knew her.

The air at the edge of the circle shimmered. “Intruders,” she shouted. “Get out of here.” She leaped forward to protect her companions, throwing up a temporary barrier with the magic powder she always carried in her pockets. Lilith pulled both her guns; Samuel began to morph into tiger form, and the foxes snarled a warning, but backed away, ready to run.

Energy crackled, and as if Ari’s earlier thoughts had pulled them in, Sophistrina and her coven materialized outside the prior circle.

“Hold everything. It’s Sophistrina.” Ari thrust out a restraining hand to keep her companions from attacking, but she kept her eyes on the witches, waiting to see the coven’s mood. The last leader of this group had indeed tried to kill her. It paid to be cautious. Especially when they showed up at this particular spot.

“Why do you seem so surprised?” The high priestess smiled at her from the other side of the barrier and cocked her head to one side. “Didn’t you call me?”

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You can find Ally’s books at the following online sites:

Amazon:  http://amzn.to/1f3keBF
B&N: http://bit.ly/1lCYdNP
ARe: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-firestorm-1445366-139.html
Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/fire-storm-2

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Contact Ally at:

Website: http://allyshields.com
Blog: http://allyshields.com/blog.html
Twitter: http://twitter.com/ShieldsAlly
Facebook: http://facebook.com/AllyShieldsAuthor
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6527209.Ally_Shields

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Ally-Shields/e/B009AKNDZU
Google+ https://plus.google.com/u/0/100652807699295011703/posts
Newletter: http://paper.li/ShieldsAlly/1353941420
Trailer link (Youtube): Fire Storm book trailer:http://youtu.be/cer_uURx62s

Categories: fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal, suspense, Uncategorized, Werewolves, witches | 7 Comments

Snakes and Alligators and Frogs, Oh My!

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Ever had an alligator for a pet? How about a boa constrictor? My guest Susan Muller has had both and today she’s going to relate some of her adventures with exotic animals. Where do frogs fit into the picture? You’ll just have to read on to find out.

 

Susan Miuller.

Susan C. Muller is a fourth generation Texan who started her first novel at age eleven, but life got in the way and it wasn’t until many years later that she returned to that first love, writing.  Her novel, The Secrets on Forest Bend, has won several awards. The Witch on Twisted Oak was released in August, 2013, Voodoo on Bayou Lafonte in January, 2014, and Circle of Redemption in May, 2014.

She enjoys speaking to book clubs and writer’s groups and serves as president of her local RWA chapter.

Take it away Susan.
 

 

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Sorry, Kate, I’ve never owned a horse. But being from Texas I have been around them from time to time. I’ve even ridden a few. Of course, I always wanted one, but the expense, not to mention the time and effort, prevented me.

I have owned pets, though. And I’m not just talking dogs or cats, although I’ve had plenty of those. I don’t know what it is about boys–my daughter only had hamsters, gerbils, and kitties—but my son had a turtle named Mr. Turtle Green and a gold fish called Chicken Leg. I only realized last year that the poor fish got that name because he resembled, you guessed it, a chicken leg. Don’t know why it took me forty years to figure that out.

Later, my son got a baby alligator. Of course, alligators only eat live food. During the summer, my son held the flashlight while I caught teeny, tiny frogs and Al, the alligator, snapped them up. As the weather got cooler, the frogs grew too big and I had to improvise. I took a small cube of ground meet, tied a string around it, and jiggled it up and down in front of Al. After he clamped down on it, I had to get scissors and snip off the string hanging from the side of his mouth.

Later, as my son got older and Al had gone into hibernation for the last time, he talked his grandfather into buying him a boa constrictor. We named the snake Hercules because he was so strong. Snakes also only eat live food; generally white mice

Not all pet stores carry white mice or, even if they do, don’t necessarily have them when needed. So we got a large aquarium, put a cover on it, and bought two or three mice at a time.

Do you know what happens when you put two or three mice together? You get six or seven mice, and then twelve or fifteen. Many more mice than Hercules could eat in a month.

Hercules may have been strong, but he wasn’t the smartest snake in the world. The first time he tried to catch a mouse, he missed, injuring the roof of his mouth. Have you ever tried to find a vet who treats snakes? For a week, we had to swab the inside of his mouth with some stinky concoction. This was a two person job. My son held Herc, as we called him, and I swabbed with a Q-tip.

There have been many other pets over the years: a Great Dane and a Shih Tzu who were best friends, an Irish Setter who stole golf clubs and brought them home, a Weimaraner who got on the counter and ate only my regular cookies, forgoing my husband’s sugar-free ones, and a cat who roamed the neighborhood on garbage day, knocking the lids off cans until we had to buy several neighbors new cans with locking lids.

As I think about it, I might have saved money with a horse.

But, of all animals, I love dogs the best. When I needed someone to discover a body in my novel, The Witch on Twisted Oak, I picked a Border Collie. I even put the opening scene in her point of view. I thought I had come up with a brilliant new idea. Later I read Robert Crais’s best seller, Suspect, and realized there’s nothing new in the world.

Molly was only supposed to be in the first scene, but I fell in love with her and she became a major character in the story. Here’s an excerpt from The Witch on Twisted Oak featuring Molly and a cat named Bob who may or may not be a witch’s familiar.

Do you have a dog, or a cat, or a horse, or any other fur baby you love?

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WitchonTwistedOak_850 (1)A powerful psychic is brutally murdered.  Secrets are revealed.  An old enemy is out for revenge.

Detective Ruben Marquez is thrust back into his childhood memories when he investigates a gruesome murder that occurs only feet from his mother’s home.  Is the killer somehow connected to his own past?  Is the beautiful, mysterious daughter of the victim, someone he can trust?  Or is her revelation that she’s a witch a sign he should stay clear.  But how can he, when it appears she’s next on the murderer’s to-do list.

In the ultimate test of courage, he uses himself as bait to protect all he holds dear . . . his career, his family, and the Witch on Twisted Oak.

 

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Molly had spent fifteen minutes searching for Bob (a cat) and never figured out he was hiding behind a curtain. She had finally given up and made do with checking out the litter box. She watched Ruben with innocent eyes, but a pyramid of kitty litter sat on top of her nose.

Mamacita stuck her head out of the bedroom door. “I’m going to bed now. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Tessa stepped out of the bathroom, her face damp and shiny clean, the last traces of make-up removed. Although why she bothered to wear any with that skin he wasn’t sure.

“Could you wait a few minutes?” she asked Mamacita. “I’d like to feed Bob in there where he won’t be worried about the dog. And he won’t eat if there’s anyone around.”

Ruben almost cheered. He couldn’t have arranged things any better. It was almost worth having the cat around. Almost.

It took ten minutes and the efforts of both he and Tessa to convince Bob to stay in the bedroom and Molly to stay out of it. The dog lay with her litter covered nose pressed against the one inch gap at the bottom of the door, occasionally letting out a pathetic wine.

Mamacita scooted as far down the sofa, away from Tessa, as she could get. The only difference in her actions and the cat’s was that her claws hadn’t come out. He looked again. Well, maybe they had.

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Amazon:  The Witch on Twisted Oak:   http://tinyurl.com/pat8l65

Amazon author page:   http://tinyurl.com/khohbla

Website:  http://www.susancmuller.com/

Twitter:  @SusanCMuller

Facebook: Susan C. Muller, Author

 

 

 

 

Categories: alligators, animals, boa constrictors, Dogs and cats, Mystery, suspense, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 21 Comments

Guesting on “Stilettos at High Noon”

.Stilettos

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Today I’m a guest on “Stilettos at High Noon,” a blog devoted to Western romance fiction, and I’m talking about horses in the old West. Rather than have two blogs on the same day, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop by Stilettos and take a look. And hopefully comment.

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http://stilettosathighnoon.blogspot.com

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In a little over two weeks, June 13-16, I’ll be taking part in the Summer Splash Blog Hop. Stay tuned for details on how you can win books and lots of other prizes.

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Summer Splash

Categories: Cowboys, Horses, old West, riding, rodeos, romance, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

My Dope-y Cat

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Janis WilsonThis week’s  guest is Janis Wilson, who is working on her first novel.  GOULSTON STREET is a story of a woman’s attempt to solve the Jack the Ripper murders. Janis has a great deal of experience with the Ripper. She taught a class at Temple University entitled, “Who Was Jack the Ripper?” and has lectured on the Ripper. Last November, she was one of the delegates to the Jack the Ripper conference in Whitechapel. Go Janis!

Today she’s going to be talking about a much less gruesome topic—her Maine Coon cat, Loki.

 

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I had always wanted a solid black Maine Coon, the fluffy cat with the regal bearing. They are called gentle giants because of their pacific nature and their impressive size. We wanted a black one because I have always had and loved black cats. They seem mysterious and glamorous.

LokiSo it was a pleasant surprise when my husband and I, motoring from Virginia to Canada on vacation, happened to spot a classified ad for just such an animal at a price that people who vacation in their automobiles could afford.

The ad appeared in the Washington Post and, as we were not immediately shopping for a cat, it was just black cat luck that we happened to spot it. We phoned the owner just before we left Washington but did not connect.

In New York, we were able to get through and explained why we could not immediately come and purchase the kitten. We agreed to stay in touch with the owner and to meet up on our return trip.

And so, having seen plays on Broadway and at the Stratford (Toronto) Festival, we turned the car southward and started making calls. The kitty lived in Maryland and we made arrangements to meet the owner in a shopping center near the interstate.

The advertiser described the van she would be driving and we pulled into a spot beside it. I climbed into the van to meet the prospective new member of our family. We wanted a cat that would get along with our other two kitties. The kitten permitted me to pet him. To my astonishment, he sat in my lap as if we were old friends. I knew we had a winner. I climbed down and gave a full report to my husband. He entered the van and also was taken with the sweetness of the little black cat.

As we had not been on the hunt for a cat, we had no supplies. I walked into a discount store and purchased a carrier to ensure the kitten’s safe passage to Virginia. Meanwhile, my husband hit the ATM to get cash for the transaction.

I returned to the van with a fist full of cash and departed with a crate full of cat. It struck me that, with my out-of-state vehicle, and my repeated ingress and egress into a windowless van with a couple of hundred dollars in cash, an onlooker might think a big drug deal was in progress.

In fact, it may have been. For the kitten, whom we named Loki, gave us so much pleasure in the ensuing years, that he acted as a mild sedative.

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Here’s an excerpt from Janis’s Work-In-Progress, GOULSTON STREET.

 

jacktheripper“Lord, she was drunk. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody as drunk as she was, sliding down the wall and all. Drunk as she was, she still agreed to come along and have another gin with me and to do whatever I could pay her to do. I didn’t give her the chance to do her filthy business. I made her do the paying – with her worthless life.

I put on my cloth cap and walked to the news agent’s to purchase the Daily News. I smiled as I read the headline that said “More Murders.” The article went on to say two women had been killed in one night. The first one was on Berner Street, but this was a surprise to me. Now they think I’m even quicker than I really am.

They should know the first one wasn’t done by me. I wouldn’t have left her guts inside her. They should know my work by now. I get a whore and cut her throat and pull out her insides and walk off with the other parts. No whore deserves to keep her guts, so I take ’em out. No, sir, I did not kill the Berner Street woman, but I am glad they think I did. I worked on the one found over by the Imperial Club. Wonder what her name was? Doesn’t matter. I got to kill another whore and get my arms into the bloody mess of her belly. I was inside her up to my elbows. Nothing is more thrilling than cutting out the womb. It was lovely and warm when I put it in my sack. I had to take it home. It was too dark out for me to admire it properly. Besides, someone came out of the club and I had to run like a maniac to get away safe.

Why do these whores keep coming out? Because they know they deserve to die and that I am here to help them do it. Whores don’t have the courage they need to throw themselves in the Thames, so I help them to stop being a scourge on the community. Help them with my knife. I help the whole city with my knife.

Wouldn’t my boss be surprised if he knew I am the one they call “Jack the Ripper.” Shows they think I am English, naming me Jack. Like the Union Jack. But if I were English I would have been better treated. No tolerance for foreigners in this country. Probably some newspaperman made up that name, but it is all right. Now I have a title and people will remember me better. They will never find me for I am quick and nimble. They should call me “Jack be nimble”, for I can pull bellies apart in the blink of an eye and get my work done quicker than they can say “Jack Robinson.”

With Scotland Yard thinking I fixed two in one night, the peelers will be everywhere. I will have to lie low until people’s blood cools down. I’ll wait until no one expects me anymore. The papers say somebody who goes by the name “Leather Apron” has done my deeds. That was good for a laugh. Let them arrest him and I’ll go to the hanging. I will keep an eye on the newspaper to see if they get any better ideas about who I am.

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Website: JanisWilson.com

Death Knell V

Catch Janis’s short story The Devil’s Triangle in the Death Knell V anthology put out by the Delaware Valley Mystery Authors.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Ripper Newspaper photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/bradford_timeline/6349438279/”>Bradford Timeline</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
Categories: anthologies, Cats, fear, history, Jack the Ripper, Maine Coon cats, Mystery, suspense, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

Horses’ Body Language

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Sorry for being a little late today. The computer gods were being difficult.

horse headLast time I talked about how horses communicate with sounds. While humans are naturally most focused on vocalizations, the horse’s most important form of communication is by body language. The variety and complexity is actually quite astounding.

If you see a horse with its ears back and pinned to its head, eyes slitted, nose tight, and head snaked forward in an aggressive manner, I hope you would realize that the animal is upset or angry about something. And that you would have enough sense to stay away. On the other hand, a horse with its ears forward, eyes open, nose relaxed, and head slightly extended is interested in something and possibly looking for a treat. That’s a horse you can approach (with the owner’s permission). Between these two extremes are a wealth of expressions that indicate what is going on with a horse. And this is just looking at the head.

The ears are like miniature radar cones and they tell you where the horse is focused. Ears rigidly forward with the head high, eyes wide and nostrils flared says he’s on high alert and looking at something exciting or scary and debating about departing the scene. Since horses are prey animals, their first response to something frightening is to flee. That plastic bag may be a horse-eating monster!

A slightly modified version of this, with the head down and a curious expression, indicates something interesting to explore. Again, as prey animals, it’s important for them to investigate their environment to determine if something is a threat, so they have a strong sense of curiosity. And an even stronger desire to play. My Portia was initially scared of the pink unbarrel racericorn piñata hanging from a tree near the pasture and high-tailed it back to the barn. When a crowd of kids gathered around it and began playing with it, she couldn’t contain her curiosity and crept back up to the fence. Each time someone whacked at the toy and sent it swinging, she’d run away, then stop and turn to watch. In a few minutes, she was back at the fence again. I think she was quite disappointed when it finally broke.

Ears that are swiveled backwards are quite different from angry, pinned ones. These mean the horse is focused on something behind him, hopefully the rider. You see this quite often in training sessions and in the show ring. The horse is paying close attention to the rider’s commands. You’ll also see one ear turned back and the other forward or sideways. This indicates a divided attention, with something that the horse needs to keep an eye and ear on.

horses on beachSometimes you’ll see the ears flopped sideways, with the head down and eyes half closed, indicating a totally relaxed, unconcerned attitude. This is great when lazing around in the pasture. However, on the trail a spaced-out horse could be suddenly startled and react in a way that may unseat its rider. Personally I prefer a horse that’s paying some attention to its surroundings.

Learning to read horse body language is a skill that takes time to develop. Also, not all horses are alike, so you need to be aware of the individual. But if you’re going to be around them (or write about them), it’s a vital knack to develop. This post focused on the head. Next time I’ll talk more about the rest of the body.

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Horses on beach: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicksee/3908901846/”>nick see</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Horse head: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/tambako/2889785643/”>Tambako the Jaguar</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Barrel racer: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/alanenglish/3354741725/”>Al_HikesAZ</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Categories: animals, horse care, horse power, Horses, How horses talk, nature, riding, training horses, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

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