Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Elizabeth Castillo, Poet

From Rizal, Philippines, Elizabeth Castillo is an international poetess. Her first book of poetry, Season of Emotions, was released in January 2013. Her poetry has been featured in over 20 anthologies, and counting... 

Welcome Elizabeth!

What is your view of current world events?
The world nowadays is plagued with various controversies involving religion and politics mostly; conflicts between nations, territorial disputes and other major topics. Even the latest resignation of the Pope as leader of the Catholic Church was attacked with so much controversies and hearsays. I read world events online once in awhile. I am concerned for what is happening around especially news about the environment, violence on women and children and abuse of human rights.  Most of them are alarming; some do come and go and are replaced by newer hot issues or those that are trending. With the advances in technology, faster transmission of communication, one wouldn’t be left behind of what’s happening around him unlike before.

What is your life’s mission?
My life’s mission as a writer and poet is to touch lives through pen pushing. I want to leave marks on other people’s lives in whatever way I may have touched them through my written words. God gave me this gift of words and I believe I have the obligation to share it and not just keep to myself.

When did you realize you wanted to become a writer/poet?
At a very young age, my preteen years, I exhibited writing inclinations with dozens of poems/essays and just kept them in torn and worn-out pages of my notebooks. I have always loved writing for it is my passion.

Can you remember the first poem you ever wrote?
Honestly, I cannot vividly remember the very first poem I composed. Most of them though were love poems; either sad love poems of separation or happy love poems of being in the throes of love.

What is your primary genre?
I have always written poetry, some essays and short stories. I also do blogging. I really wanted to become a flexible writer for I have experienced news writing already, feature and creative writing. What I haven’t done yet is to write a novel which I may eventually venture in the near future. Could be a dark or horror novel like my idol Stephen King does.

Where do you currently work?
I am currently working as a professional writer and also as an online English instructor for Koreans. I am also a contributing editor for an international online magazine, Inner Child The Magazine and co-authoring various international anthologies.

As a contributing editor, what do you look for?
As a contributing editor for Inner Child the Magazine’s section All About the Love, I usually write topics about life, love and relationships, so mainly, it’s all about the love.

Name a favorite poem or two and a few of your favorite poets…
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways is my all-time favorite. I also adore Emily Dickinson’s A Charm Invests A FaceI love the works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Dickinson and Rumi and largely influenced by their masterpieces, though I have my own poetic style.

Is it important to you if your poems get published or not?
I have always dreamed of publishing my own books and after winning an international competition and having a free publication of my first international poetry book which is Seasons of Emotions, I knew my dream finally came true. Writing is my passion and my gift to the world so I must share it. After publishing my first poetry book, I will also be releasing my second book, but this time it would be a collection of my well-loved blogs, essays, prose and poetry, short stories and quotes within this year with another publishing company.

What does poetry really mean to you?
Poetry lets me pour out my various emotions even the suppresses one we didn’t  know exist inside of us ‘til the moment you start jotting down what you’re feeling. It’s more than an escape into the unknown, a refuge for your creativity and sometimes wild imagination not all ordinary ungifted people like us understand.

Define perfect poetry…
Perfect poetry for me is one that wakes up the feelings and senses of your readers, carries them to a place you have made up in your imagination as written on your pieces or one that touches the readers in one way or the other.  I consider myself as a modernist writer/poet for I like my readers to experience surreal feelings once they get to read my work, much like James Joyce style - stream of consciousness.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013


Hernando Rivas is the proprietor of Ridingcolumbia, a sensational spot to go horseback riding while enjoying the beautiful landscape of Columbia, South America. Situated in the lovely Bogotá region, the capital of Columbia, Hernando takes visitors on an equestrian trip of a lifetime...  

Welcome Hernando!

What was your first experience with a horse?
I grow up in the city. In my vacations all my family went to the farm. During my childhood, we had horses. I start to ride at 5 years old. My brothers and I took many years of classes in equestrian academies. My brothers were first in the jump equestrian ranking.

What is your favorite breed of horse?
The Colombian horses are called Colombian Criollos. They are very similar to the gaited horses. The Colombian horses have a gait called Trocha. It is very smooth. I like the gait because is very nice for long trail rides. This horse is used to riding on difficult trails without getting hurt.

What will I experience when I come to Ridingcolumbia?
We offer a completely tourism experience, tailored to the interests, horseback riding experience, physical fitness, and budget. You will see a very nice landscape and it changes depending upon where you go. Some places have exuberant vegetation. Others have a combination of different colors and texture. The Colombian people are very friendly and we offer our clients a unique opportunity to ride on horseback through the interesting, and sometimes amazing Colombian countryside that the typical tourist will never see. Our guests experience the real environment and culture of the regions we visit, getting the local flavor of the people of this country.

Another important difference is the speed of the ride and the difficulty of the trails where we ride. From our experiences in horseback riding in South America, Europe and the United States, we have concluded that we can offer greater adventure for riders who know how to ride a horse. The Colombian horses are used to traveling through these difficult trails without generating any problem for the horse. During the ride or the tour, we will tell you about the history, culture and vegetation of the places we visit.

What is the terrain like there?
In general we are in a mountain region. Depending on your interest we can ride on easy trail as a road. Also if you want adventure we can ride on a very difficult and steep trail. 

How many horses do you stable?  
We do not have horses.  We are generating a positive social impact (responsible tourism) to the provinces we visit; because we contract local horses companies and other selected services with local providers, with whom we have an established business relationship for years. Our company is constantly traveling and visiting horse riding rental businesses in different towns in order to test their quality in every way. Subsequently, our company chooses businesses that offer horses of sufficient quality and compliance with schedules and standards we require. Therefore, these procedures generates significant added value for our customers.  We have ridden their horses, also we have traveled several times the trails and roads in the region and therefore, we can offer reliable plans with beautiful landscape and safety environment. 

Where is your favorite trail to ride?
The Ride to Raquira Region is two days or more. It is my favorite because it has the best landscape. In a ride of five hours you can see very different landscapes.  You can start riding along a brook, then inside a forest; go through a dessert area to finish riding to the top of a mountain through a very steep trail. In these places, we can organize the most adventurous ride for advanced riders. I enjoy the adventure rides. For a tour of three days or more we can include in the plan to visit tourist small towns and relaxing hikes.
Do you have suggestions for new tourists planning a trip to Ridingcolumbia? 
We specialize in tailored plans and our trail rides are designed for people who are used to riding horses on a trail for more than two hours. We can design rides for beginners, but I think will be expensive for them because we have to reduce the time of the ride but we can not reduce the price.

What has been your best equine experience?
I took jump and dressage classes for many years. Also I have done trail horse riding for many years. I do not have any doubt I prefer to ride a horse on a trail with a beautiful landscape than a dressage class or competition. In jumping and dressage sport, you depend on the quality of the horse and your ability to manage the horse. In my opinion, in trail horse ride, the quality of the horse is important, but the landscape, the talk with the other riders and country people and the environment are also important. So, you can have a nice day with activities around the horse without need to have a great horse.  

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Wendy Bliss, Clip and Canter

Located on the outskirts of Wigan, in the North West Territory of the United Kingdom, Wendy Bliss is a freelance coach and equestrian author/writer for The Arabian Magazine. She is the proprietor of Clip and Canter, offering professional clipping services as well as practical training. Her new book, Enhanced Riding, is the process with a release date coming soon!

Welcome Wendy!

What was your first encounter with a horse?
MMMmm. Well I think it was when I was about seven, if you do not count my obsession with riding donkeys on the beach when I was two years old! My parents took us on a family holiday where there were ponies you could ride. My dad (who incidentally knew absolutely nothing about horses) lead me round a field on a pony named Mardy. From that day on I was hooked. When we returned from our family holiday I begged my parents for lessons….

What is your riding discipline?
When I was younger jumping, jumping and more jumping, indeed anything that was not jumping was boring! In my twenties however, I became interested in showing and in particular with my purebred Arab. In my thirties, I then thought I would try my hand at dressage, with my Arab retired, I bought an Irish Sports Horse for the job. I have stopped competing now to concentrate on my teaching.

Do you have a favorite breed?
I love all breeds of horses/ponies, but I have a particular love of Arabs, so strong but delicate, graceful and willing partners with amazing personalities. 

As a trainer, what training methods do you use?
I like to use a combination of methods, each horse and rider is an individual and what works for one, may not work for another. If there is a problem or behavioral issue, then I believe trying to find out why is essential to come up with a solution. I like to use some Classical Training, ‘Natural Horsemanship’ techniques and my own ideas from my experiences. I have a holistic approach to training, utilizing knowledge of equine and human psychology, physiology and my teaching / coaching qualifications to develop horse and rider into successful partnerships.

What is the secret to the perfect clip?
Taking your time! A clean horse and clean sharp blades. By overlapping strokes helps minimize tram lines. Even though I clip lots of horses, I still always chalk lines on them as a guide.

Tell me about your books and freelance...
I am currently a regular writer and contributor for The Arabian Magazine.  My articles, The Enhanced Riding Series, are being developed into a book – Enhanced Riding.

What advice do you have for beginning riders?
If you are thinking of doing it, then do it! Horse riding is an amazing hobby and keeps you fit, both mentally and physically. There is always a risk of falling no matter how experienced we are but taking the time to understand how a horse thinks and appreciate these fantastic animals is a journey, in my opinion well worth embarking on. Always think safety, wearing a hard hat, a body protector perhaps and learning simple safety handling rules can minimize accidents.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lynne Levy, Equestrian

I love this interview with Lynne Levy and honored to have her featured on my blog! She has sensible ideas for purchasing, training and stabling a horse. Lynne has been a horse-lover for over 40 years. She is a seasoned rider and trainer, facilitating clinics that place emphasis on the connection between horse and rider.  She prides herself on fairness and honesty; a horse show judge not influenced by politics, fads or trends. She believes that all exhibitors have the right to be treated equally by a judge who is informed on the rules, discipline and standards of each breed.

Welcome Lynne!

Where in the world are you?
In the world I'm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. It's really rather an overgrown small town, very urban but yet pretty homey. In life I'm just a horse-crazy girl who never grew out of what everyone called a phase. After over 40 years of riding and showing about every breed & discipline I could, 6 years ago I was forced to stop riding for medical reasons. I said it myself, and hear it all the time - if I had to make the choice between riding or taking the chance on dying, I'd still ride; I love it too much. Truth is until you're actually faced with it you don't know how you'll really react. Since my first choice was life, I learned to adapt to a new way of staying with horses. I'd already done more than I thought I could in the show ring and was doing OK as a judge and instructor. So what's the big deal; I've always been analytical and enjoyed mental gymnastics. The reason I love judging open and 4-H horse shows; so many different breed standards. Fun!  So working out problems from observation is now what I do, plus judging and clinics.

What was your first encounter with a horse?
Growing up in Milwaukee we didn't have a farm or horses, but my father was a western movie buff, so we grew up with Gene Autrey, The Lone Ranger, and Roy Rogers. That may have been what got my sister hooked first and, since she's 10 years older than I, when she wanted to ride, be it the nickel mechanical horse at the drug store or at one of the area livery stables, she had to take me along. When I was in junior high school she bought her first horse and STILL had to take me along. Neither of us has ever moved out of the city, but we have never left the horse world either.

How long have you been judging?
I started judging Open Shows between 15 and 20 years ago. I was unhappy with the breed bias that I saw frequently and decided to try to work to improve the chances for others; a Don Quixote complex maybe. That led to 4-H judging (a US Department of Agriculture program for Youth). In 1992 I felt that breed papers would add credibility and earned my card to judge Tennessee Walking Horses. I still work with the Wisconsin Horse Council Open Judges program to educate new and current judges on the variety that they will see in the ring to judge them fairly. 

Do you have a favorite breed?
There is no bad breed. My final choice to own is Tennessee Walking Horses, but I no longer own a horse. Judging and doing clinics, I have seen many horses of all breeds that I would take home if I could. A good horse is a good horse no matter the breed color or anything else.

What basic qualities do you look for when judging a horse?
What I look for varies by class. In a halter class, I want a horse whose conformation is correct movement, is sound and attitude is tractable; a horse with positive traits to pass on in the breeding shed. My main focus tends to be legs and movement.  In Pleasure classes, I want a calm smooth moving consistent performance. In Performance classes we add a bit more fire. But I never want to see a horse barely controlled or out of control.  Safety comes first and that [undisciplined] horse will be asked to leave the ring.  Again depends on the class.

How important is grooming to the winning horse?
Proper grooming is not an option. You're there to prove how special your horse is so make it obvious, BUT the best groomed horse with no manners, poor conformation or a poor performance isn't going to win Pretty is as Pretty does.

What disposition do you look for in a winner?
Again it comes down to the class. Some call for more spunk than others, but always well mannered.

What is your favorite show ring anecdote?
There were three horses that showed head-to-head in our area for quite a while. Ours being one of them. At the end of two days of versatility doing everything from English to Western to Reining to Over Fences, etc., it came down to two. As it was announced that I was 2nd and Greg Parker was high point Champion, Greg was SURE that we should have BOTH won the Championship. He really did win. Rather than taking a victory lap for pictures, he refused to move until after a hug from horseback we could ride out side-by-side, the way we had competed. Never have I seen such a gentleman in competition.

Where is your favorite arena?
The arena that I LOVE is in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. It's a large domed ring where the seating is right up to the sides of the ring. The audience can get nice and close to the horses.

What do you think of the new discipline, Western Dressage?
I couldn't have been happier when I learned that Western Dressage was finally being recognized. A friend of mine, Claudia Shipshock, was right there asking when we could start offering clinics and I've been doing 1 to 2 clinics a month for about 2 years now. There's nothing new about western dressage. What IS new is that it is finally being recognized. As for competition, people have been using the dressage principals for years. But can you picture the tough cowboy walking into the saloon bellying up to the bar with his buddies and saying Yep I ride (spit into spitoon) dressage. Oh yeah macho. Now it's OK to take the time and effort to go out and learn about tough cowboys to build a better partnership with your horse. Only about 10% of those coming to my clinics want to compete. But they ALL want to improve their communication with their horse.

As a horse owner, what can I do to keep a happy horse?
The best way to keep a happy horse is to put the horse first. If things aren't going well, don't get mad. Find out why… Is there a physical problem? Does he understand? It's not fair to punish a horse for not doing what he doesn't understand what you want. I'm not saying let him take charge. No. You pay the bills. But he is your responsibility. Do things to make him WANT to work for you. Give him reasons to do things and don't let him get bored. A horse who wants to work for you will perform far better than one who is forced. Like a child, if you only let him know when he's done something wrong, that's how he'll get your attention. So tell him when he's right too.

What should I look for when buying a horse? 
Figure out FIRST what you will be wanting that horse to do and what you are able to handle. Look for the horse that is already suited to what you want. Don't expect to take one type of horse and change him into another. Both of you will be unhappy. Also be brutally honest with yourself about your knowledge and ability. If you're not sure of either of those, take lessons first to find out where you stand and don’t go into it thinking that if it doesn't work I'll just get a different horse. Disposable animals are not acceptable. Once you buy that horse his life and well being are up to you.

Do you have advice for novice riders?
Take lessons. Not just from one trainer or instructor, but a number of lessons, not at the same time of course. Learn all you can. Clinics are a great way to learn, but keep in mind what works with one horse may not work with another. Horse’s are like us, they all have a different capacity and rate of learning. ALSO remember that not all who offer advice know what they are talking about, so keep the option of dumping the information if it's not worthwhile, just say uh huh & thank you.  If you have any interest in showing or are curious, ask to ring master at a couple shows. While the judge doesn't have the time to give you a lot of information, you'll be able to pick up a lot just by watching what is REALLY happening from center ring, and believe me it's not the same thing that people think they see from the rail. The biggest key is never stop trying to learn. No-one knows it all.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Sarah Huntley, Equine Elite

From Brighton, United Kingdom, Sarah Huntley is the founder and director of Equine Elite, a professional equestrian recruitment agency. Traveling the world, working in top levels of eventing, showjumping and dressage, Sarah has a background in Sport and Performance Psychology as well as all-around equine performance.

When did you learn to ride?
I started to ride aged 9 – but not on horses! Instead I rode some donkeys in our village in Sussex. I learnt how to care for them and taught me the basics in riding. I worked with the donkeys every weekend for a couple of years until my parents allowed to have horse-riding lessons!

Do you have a favorite breed of horse?
I love any horse with Irish breeding – I find they have the scope, ability, level head and try-hard attitude that suits them well to eventing. I find you can also tend to rely on Irish horses to be sensible when you need them to be!

As a professional competition groom, what are your objectives?
As a groom, the welfare of the horse has to be the upmost importance. Both at home and at competition, I like to make sure all the horses are happy and healthy. I believe wherever possible, daily turnout is essential for psychological health – it often gives competition horses a chance to just relax for a few hours. At competitions, I aim to prepare the horses to the best of my ability – I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to plaiting and turnout! I want my horses to look their best for each phase. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a horse jumping clear around a tough cross-country course and then trotting up brilliant and jumping well on the next day of competition.

Which is more intense for you; eventing, showjumping or dressage?
I love the sport of eventing – as it combines all individual disciplines. I participate in triathlon myself, and I guess eventing is the equestrian equivalent – a real all-round test for horse and rider.

What has been your greatest success? 
A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to groom for William Fox-Pitt at the Burghley CCI****. It was my first three-day event as a groom and a brilliant experience. William finished both 1st and 2nd that year which was a real bonus. It ignited a passion for event grooming for me, and things have gone from there!

As a trainer, what are your training methods?
I am a big fan of Monty Roberts’ methods to train horses. I think he is truly inspirational – training horses in their own ‘language’ without physical harm and force and with maximum respect for the animal. I go and watch Monty in action whenever I can and read all I can on the subject. I hate to see horses mistreated or see people lose their temper with horses – they are such beautiful animals and deserve to be treated as so.

What is the secret to maintaining a healthy coat?
Daily grooming and good feeding. A happy, healthy horse has a healthy coat!

Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?
As a groom I have been able to travel all to lots of places in the UK, Australia and Europe which has been brilliant. One of my favorite events is Compiegne in France – it’s set in the beautiful French countryside. The food there was also exceptional – a full all-you-can-eat buffet every meal! I certainly didn’t go hungry that week!  I also was able to groom for an American event rider at a top indoor jumping derby in Stuttgart – Germany. It was a big show, with a great atmosphere, set in the centre of the city. The stables were put up in a multi-storey car-park, so it was a bit different to what we are used to going to events in the UK!

Where would you like to go that you haven’t been?
I’ve always wanted to groom at Badminton, and that is still an ambition of mine! It’s such an iconic event, and I hope to fulfill my dream in the near future!

What do you do during the off-season?
This year has been a bit different to usual – as I have been busy setting up my new equestrian recruitment agency – Equine Elite! I launched the website in October 2012, so it’s still very new. I have been placing grooms and riders in both temporary and permanent in vacancies on top event, showjump, dressage, polo and livery yards throughout the UK. It’s been a steep learning curve, but I’m relishing the challenge, and have been inundated with vacancies, so I figure I am doing something right! I have just expanded the agency to not only cover yard-based roles to office based roles too – from administration to accounts, PR to marketing for retailers, feed companies, colleges and national equestrian organizations. It’s a very exciting project, and I hope it will benefit employers and employees alike.

Any advice for novice groomers?
I would always advise novice grooms to get as much practical work experience as they can – on a reputable, professional yard. It is great to go to college and attain qualifications, but practical work experience is so valuable - in doing so, it is possible to develop a good understanding of the equestrian industry, learn from more experienced grooms and work out where your interests lie. In the UK, we have a brilliant organization – the British Grooms Association, which is run by ex-grooms for anyone working with horse providing an excellent support network for novice and experienced grooms alike. With regards to applying for jobs, I would always advise young grooms to think carefully about how they present themselves, from Resume writing to the interview preparation. It is important to be positive and professional to stand the best chance of obtaining your dream job!

Follow Sarah…
Web: http://www.equineelite.co.uk
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/equineeliteequestrianrecruitment
Twitter: https://twitter.com/EquineElite1

Monday, March 4, 2013

Judith Sanders, Author

Judith Sanders is the author of In His Stead, a novel based on a father’s desire to take his son’s place in the military.  Retired US Army Ranger Thomas Lane is the book’s main character, vying for a chance to serve in his son’s place. In His Stead captures the essence of family life in wartime; the good, bad and hopeful.

Is there a precedent for being able to replace someone in the military, or is it artistic license?

My novel is grounded in solid historical fact. Yes there is a precedent. Paid substitutes were allowed during both the Revolutionary & Civil Wars. You may recognize some of the names of those who in 1863 paid for substitutes to fight for them. People like Andrew Carnegie ($850 Irish immigrant); J.P. Morgan (paid $300). And future president Grover Cleveland, who paid a Polish Immigrant 6 years his senior (Cleveland was 26), to serve in his place.

Why is it so controversial and unheard of for relatives, friends or even an acquaintance to go to war in someone else’s place?

Money! Can you imagine the outcry, if today a soldier tried to pay/hire someone to take his place? In 1863, it led to riots in NYC and the largest civil insurrection in America’s history. Of course, at that time Lincoln established the draft. Rioters dubbed the Civil War “the poor man’s war” and a subversion of the freedoms granted in the Constitution; they were correct to a certain extent. The Union forces numbered approximately 2,100,000 men –of that number (the vast majority were volunteers with 2% were drafted) 6% (126,000) were paid substitutes. (Some of these substitutes were unpaid sons replacing an older or ailing father. Or an older father replacing a son. Leaving the son free to stay home and take care of the farm and family.)

The Confederate army had about the same percentage of substitutes. But in this case there were also slaves replacing their masters.

Could the scenario on which In His Stead is based actually happen today?

In the early 20th century (W. Wilson 1917) the draft laws were revised to make it illegal to PAY for someone to take your place. Then we did away with the draft after the Vietnam War in 1979. But during my research with an Army lawyer, I discovered what makes the plot of In His Stead plausible is that NO MONEY IS EXCHANGED. And it is that loop-hole that Thomas Lane uses to his advantage.

Could a father go to war instead of his son/daughter?

If it was attempted, I’m sure the US Army would put up some sizable roadblocks. BUT, what is happening is that due to the duration of this war, 13 years, fathers who served in Iraq are now seeing their sons or daughters serving in Afghanistan.

How has war affected your family?

War has been the backdrop of my life. I was born at the end of the 2nd world war…. My brother served in Japan after the Korean War. I lost high school friends in Vietnam, my brother in-­law was an Army sniper during that war and still suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My husband is retired from the Army. My father in-­law served in the Navy during WWII. I worked as a civilian nurse for the Army. And right now I have two grandnephews serving; 21 year old in the Army & a 19 year old in the Marines. Both have just returned from their first tours in Afghanistan.

What are your thoughts on Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden's big cause -­ Joining  Forces?

The mission of Joining Forces’ is to bring attention to the unique needs and strength of America’s military families. One of the themes in my novel In His Stead is the family and how war /deployment affect the family. http://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces

You are donating a portion of the book’s proceeds to Hearts Apart. What is Hearts Apart? Why this organization?

Hearts Apart was started in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA, by local businessman Brett Martin and professional photographer Brownie Harris. Its goal is to keep military families connected. Brownie and his cast of volunteers take professional photographs of families who have a member deploying. The family receives photos to keep at home and the member deploying receives a vinyl bi-fold card. The vinyl is dirt, water, rain, and sweat proof. In other, words war proof. It can be rolled up and stuffed in a helmet or pocket. These professional photos link between home/family and wherever a loved one has been deployed. You might say a lifeline that can stretch around the world.

Where did you get the idea for the plot? It’s certainly not common knowledge that years ago people were able to pay someone to go fight for them.

I was in the middle of writing the sequel to my first novel Crescent Veil when my nephew came to me. His son wanted to join the Army right out of high school. He was concerned about his son’s safety. This was particularly alarming to him since just a few years earlier his daughter was involved in a near fatal car crash.  His worry touched my heart. Especially when he said he would do anything to protect his children even if it meant taking their place.

He had a point. After all isn’t it a parent’s job to protect our children. Isn’t that what we do? We discussed this scenario. Once I validated the possibility, I began writing.

Why this book? This plot?

Writer’s write what they know. I know the cheers and fears of parenting. And I have always had a fascination with the Cradle of Civilization / the Middle East. My first book took place in Iraq. My husband worked as a weapons inspector in Iraq. With In His Stead I’m back in the Middle East with a focus on family. Families exist everywhere.

Judith, you are a nurse, a wife, a mother who at one time was a single mother, and now a writer. With all of those hats, how do you find time to write?

I love to write…I can’t imagine not writing. I am inspired by the people I’ve met, the stories I’ve heard, and the books I’ve read.

What’s your next project?

I’m in the middle of three other novels. One is the squeal to Crescent Veil. Another is a fantasy for kids, and Diamond Island is an adult Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Who are your heroes?

Mr. Scagliotto, a teacher who encouraged my interest in science, my father- who attended every softball and soccer game. Kids need heroes. It should be their parents.

Who is your target audience?

I think anyone would enjoy reading In His Stead. It’s about our potential to do the extraordinary. You may cry at the end but you’ll also feel good. I’ve also had many readers say that In His Stead would offer a unique choice for YA males and one of my grand-nephews, an avid reader at 13, just loved the book, so I’m exploring how to expose YA males to the book.

What is the message you want readers to ‘take home’ ?

Lead by example. To parents I’d say, ‘your kids are watching you. Be a hero.’

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Friday, March 1, 2013

Laura McClure, Equine Photographer

Laura McClure has traveled the world loving horses. A famous photographer of the Western lifestyle, Laura has photographed for well known Western designers and retailers such as Cowgirl Kim, Meredith Lockhart Collections, Brit West, and Olav Jules Designs by Cat Sandstrom, to name a few. She is a key photographer for Heritage Brand horse tack. Her award winning photography has been showcased in magazines including, Country Life, Cowgirls in Style and Cowgirl Magazine. She is an all-around equestrian and knows how to capture the soul of the horse and the heart of a cowgirl…

Welcome, Laura!  

What was your first encounter with a horse?

I have a few really early memories that stand out.

When I was little, I was horse crazy - briers not Barbies… the earliest memories I have of being with horses was when I was three in Houston, Texas, where I am originally from. My dad used to take us to a place called Kiddie Wonderland on weekends. Kiddie Wonderland was one of those little home town kid amusement parks with carnival and pony rides. The pony rides was all I did. There was a row of horses and ponies of all sizes and three half tracks, one for walk, one for trot, one for running. I can remember doing the running. You'd give your ticket and choose your speed. They would put you on a horse with the reins tied to the saddle, you held onto the horn. Once they got you in position they'd hit the horse with a cut off rubber hose to make him go… I assume the more/harder they hit meant faster - and/or they knew to go whichever speed according to the track they were in.

In 1970, when I was about four, we moved to England and lived/stayed at the Selsdon Park Hotel , a great country estate hotel. They had a proper British cobblestone stable and Pony Club. I took lessons and trail rode until we moved to our home in Epsom. The home my parents bought had a backyard overlooking a race horse stable. I used to run, climb the back fence every morning to watch the trainers work out the horses. When they were done, they'd hand walk them down our street (called the Ridings). Every now and again one would get loose. I had a plan to catch one and keep it. Well, the day came I saw one loose and, at six, I ran out into the street in front of the running horse and caught it. There were witnesses and I guess the handler and neighbors were about to have a heart attack watching a six year old run into the street to catch a young, runaway thoroughbred. I  I also used to trek down the bridle paths and hop cross many fields to go play with the gypsies horses in their fields near their caravans.

What is your favorite breed?

I am partial to American Quarter Horse. I love their versatility and build. I lived with my uncle in New Mexico who bred and raced them. He got me hooked.

What is your riding discipline? 

I ride Western. I used to barrel race (rodeo) and have dabbled in reining, ridden friends cutting horses etc. I used to take English lessons when I lived in Hong Kong since that was all they offered. I really developed a good seat, had great instructors, but went back to Western when I moved back to the states.

Where do you like to ride?

I love arena work. Good ground, you can get in the zone when working on exercises. I also like to be around working ranches and play with cattle. With that said, I love trails… desert, mountains, trees or plains… it’s all beautiful. I have ridden my horses on the beach several times too - looking forward to that when I get back to the coast.

Why did you leave corporate America to be an equine photographer?

The main reason to leave corporate America was to get my daughter to a small town and out of the city. I used photography to supplement my income short falls initially. 

Do you have a favorite photo shoot anecdote?

Yes! Kimberly G and I were shooting in a ghost town in Nevada. We were done with the shoot, had wrapped it up. Kimberly was walking in front of me and I heard a gasp. A little girl, she had to be about 10, saw Kimberly's mare and was in love, mesmerized, in awe. I heard her say to her mom, "Do you think she will let me pet her?" I then heard her mom nicely tell her to not ask. I totted ahead to Kimberly and told her what I heard. Kimberly turned around and called to the little girl, "Of course you can pet her, her name is Sadie!".  You wouldn't believe how that little girl’s face lit up! She looked at her mom for the OK (and got it) and skipped over to Sadie and Kimberly. Kimberly asked if she wanted to get on her (Sadie was saddled). We lifted her onto the saddle and oh my… I can not even explain how much joy it brought us to see the joy in that little girls face!

Traveling to location must be thrilling. 
What has been your favorite location?

My favorite location so far has been the desert, both in Nevada and Arizona. I spent many, many years living there and I just love it.

You've worked for many magazines and fashion designers. 
Do you have a favorite shot?

My favorite shots have to be the ones Taci and I did on the Salt River outside Mesa, Arizona. We were shooting for Cowgirl Kim and had borrowed a Rockin Vintage guitar. It was the first time Taci and I met and it was the hottest day on record in Arizona by that day in May 2012. It was evening and over 105. Coming from the midwest, it might as well have been 150. Taci was great to work with, as was her mare Diva. A fellow photographer was nearby and actually lent us a hand for the last hour. He was really nice. The wild Mustangs apparently watered near where we were and a band of mares and foals filtered in. The favorite shot from that day was probably when Taci was sitting on a log, looking like she was playing guitar with her buckskin mare standing behind her.

Taci at Salt River, Mesa, Arizona, USA

Your photography is gorgeous. 
What is your trick to making horse and rider look their best?

Thank you! Lighting is key. I shoot with off camera flash… in the sun, in the shade - all the time. To look best I usually shoot in the shade or into the sun, both the model and horse are more comfortable that way. Another big tip - don't fight the horse and don't stop modeling if horse acts up. If a horse gets mad, it's all over for the horse and model. Let the horse dictate the pose and keep a model face on… inevitably, if you are making faces while pulling on the horse, that's the shot where the horse looks good and now you don't. Fake it!

What are your goals as an equestrian and a photographer?

I am training my now four year old filly. She is/will be an all around horse but she is bred for barrels. I gave up barrels years ago… so, maybe I'd like to win a couple more buckles and saddles with her. Mostly just to enjoy the ride and not take it too seriously.

As a photographer, I will probably get more business minded when I go to California. Right now, with the move on the horizon… I am kind of coasting. I'd like to be known as the go-to for Western and Cowgirl fashion/High End Portraiture. Working on it!

What is the best way to contact you for a portrait?