Sunday, May 31, 2015

Franklin Levinson, Horse Whisperer & Author

A Horseman for All Seasons: Franklin Levinson
An interview with Gina McKnight
From Gina's March/April 2015 iVIEW column,

A seasoned horseman, Franklin Levinson has traveled the world teaching people how to listen to horses. He is the proprietor and founder of Horse Whisperer Seminars, Ltd. An advocate for first perfecting the fundamentals of successful horsemanship, Franklin was teaching his own gentle, effective horsemanship before ‘natural horsemanship’ became a worldwide bandwagon. He is the author of Trust ‘n’ Horses; a two volume eBook that is available to download and guaranteed to increase your horsemanship skills. Franklin also offers Horsemanship Videos, podcasts and more of his seminars and clinics around the world.

Franklin began his equestrian career at an early age, learning some trick riding and earning honors as the youngest registered polo player in the United States at the age of 13. His father was also a polo player, traveling the circuit on the east coast of the United States. During his 20’s, Franklin created and ran equestrian programs at large summer camps in Northern Michigan, teaching riding skills and enabling children to learn the joys of horsemanship. He then journeyed to Hawaii and developed a small ranch on the island of Maui where he created Adventures on Horseback (riding adventure) as well as The Maui Horse Whisperer, the first Equine Facilitated Learning program in the Pacific basin and one of the first in the US. 

In his clinics, published essays and books, Franklin emphasizes the importance of developing trust and respect with horses and being compassionate towards them. The foundation for Franklin’s mantra is that there are no naughty or bad horses. He states, “All unwanted behavior from a horse is a symptom of the animal’s fear and never deserves punishment.” He has learned through experience. He has learned from the horses themselves. Each encounter with a horse has increased his aptitude and regard for the horse as a companion, a friend, and a teacher. He favors the American Quarter Horse for their agility and disposition, and the Arabian for their beauty and intelligence; however, he loves all horses and welcomes all breeds and varieties to his clinics and seminars. I spoke with Franklin on the phone after a day of training at his home in Greece. He and his wife, Ilona Staikou, teach private and semi-private equestrian lessons at The Riding Academy of Crete.

GM: What is natural horsemanship?

FL: For me, natural horsemanship is basically a marketing term. There is little that is natural about how we humans interact with horses. People who get on a horse and scream at a horse and kick the horse are not going anywhere. Folks who push a horse endlessly around a round pen, call what they do natural horsemanship. It is not. I think people have to learn the psychology of the horse first. To put someone on a horse who doesn’t know anything about horses, how crazy is that? How unkind is that to the horse and the rider? I am a real critic of some modern day riding instruction – as nothing about the needs, language, psychology or emotional life of the horse is taught. You must gain knowledge and trust first. Trusting it is safe is the single most important thing to a horse. Here’s how I develop and gain trust. I handle the horse on the ground first by asking for relatively simply movement which I guide and direct and then reward all effort. After this, if all goes well I may attempt to ride him. You have to help horses understand he doesn’t need to be afraid. The development of trust my goal with all horses wherever I go. If you take the responsibility to train the horse to trust you, you’re going to have a safer ride and a more effective and fun experience. What I am trying to do is project a logical, common sense, down to earth approach to horses. Trying to force someone through fear is not logical to me and it makes no sense. Going slow, showing patience and compassion, to me, is a better way to do this.

GM: You have had a very successful career and your program is outstanding. When was the turning point in your career as a horse trainer?

FL: I did realize early on that if I taught the kids at the camps something about the nature of horses, their needs and language, then everything went better and became more successful for the kids and the horses. When I was at a ranch in Colorado and I heard about a horse named Pete that was considered an outlaw and dangerous. Pete had reared up and split his owner’s head open. Some guy had gotten a rope on Pete and he dragged the guy because the guy had gotten the rope caught around his wrist. You could not tie Pete. He pulled down a shed, and he wouldn’t load. When I first moved to this ranch in Aspen, I heard about Pete and I wanted to see him. I went out and looked at him and he was standing very sheepishly in the far end of the pasture. He was the cutest little horse I’d ever seen. He was just adorable. He was a little Appy Quarter Horse, flea-bitten grey. You couldn’t get near him though. We managed to herd him into a round pen. Then I realized we were not looking at a dangerous animal, we were looking at a terrified animal. Once you stop judging a horse’s undesirable behavior as bad and taking it personally and understand it is merely a symptom of fear, your approach might be a lot different than if you think he is just being bad. Because if you think he is just being bad you might go to anger, force and punishment. Like with a child who is afraid of something, you don’t want to swat the child and say, ‘Get in there you little jerk.’ No. You’re going to take the child by the hand and say, ‘Okay, Johnny, let’s do this together and see if it’s really that scary.’ So, with Pete, I basically sat down in the middle of the round pen and just stayed quietly there. The first day Pete would walk by me a little bit and come a little closer. The next day I did the same thing and he would actually stop and give me a little smell and check me out. The third day I was standing in the round pen and he came over and checked me out. Eventually, I extended a hand out. He sniffed the back of my hand. Then we did it again. At some point, he let me touch his shoulder. He let me scratch him on his wither a little. I am a strong believer in not applying a stimulus for very long; a few moments are all that is needed. Keep your movement nice and smooth and relaxed. Don’t be jerky about it or abrupt. It didn’t take long before I would walk over to where he was standing and he would calmly start to walk off but not run away. That is what I wanted. I wanted to take the spot that he was standing on for my own in a calm way. I would do that for some time. I would walk to where he was, he would walk off, then I would take the next spot where he was and he would walk off. It didn’t take very long before he was looking at me continuously. Within 10 to 15 minutes, he just couldn’t take his eyes off me. It was all very calm and very quiet. At one point I just started to walk away and he followed me. Once he started doing that, then things developed very fast. We started playing around in the round pen a lot, a lot of liberty play. After he got really good at liberty, then I put him on a line. I always start out a problem horse – a horse with issues –  with liberty play first, rather than try to put a rope on him to control him. I am not really trying to control him. I wish to be his good and trust leader. Being in a round pen, he can’t go anywhere anyway. So, if you get good at liberty - the direction you want, the speed you want, the kind of turns you want, following you, hanging with you - then go ahead and put a rope on him.

That’s pretty much how it went. The biggest problem I had with Pete is that he wouldn’t load. I actually got him in a trailer to go on a trail ride. We took this beautiful ride into the Colorado Mountains and then I couldn’t get him back in the trailer. We were about 5 or 6 miles from the ranch. It was getting dark out. There was no way I could get him in the trailer.  So, I had to ride him in the dark along the main road, which was no fun. After that I vowed I would take him to loading school. I set my trailer up and started to work with him. It didn’t take too long before I figured out what the issue was. The issue was that he didn’t want to pick his feet up to hop up into the trailer. That’s really what it was. The first time he got into the trailer was just luck. Then when he figured out he had to pick his feet up to get into the trailer, he didn’t like it. So, I started taking him over logs. I found some big logs and I began walking and lunging him, and then jumping him over logs. After four hours, later in the day, he hopped right up in the trailer. He loved to go places. We would go on a lot of adventures. It got to the point where I could point to the trailer and he would hop up in it. The horse turned out really great. He became a great personal horse for me. He was a real treat to ride. He had a beautiful gate that could cover a lot of ground. He became a terrific horse to help with my equine facilitated learning programs because he became light and sensitive. Children, if they were introduced to him properly, as young as four years of age could handle Pete at liberty and move him around the round pen and hook on to him really easy. He was a great program horse that I used for the Buddy Program, Make a Wish Program, etc. He was great. Pete’s retired now in Colorado. Pete taught me how not to judge horses and understand their resistance was merely symptomatic of fear. Pete put me on the map in Colorado.

GM: Bongo, your current sidekick, is a beautiful horse. He is very elegant and graceful. When did you meet Bongo?

FL: When I first met Bongo two years ago, he had been abused. They couldn’t catch him or get near him. He pulled back if he was tied. It didn’t take much to scare this poor horse. He and I met and I took him into a clinic that I did here in Crete a couple of years ago. We made quite a bit of progress in about an hour, just asking for simple movement and rewarding his effort; throwing ropes around him, and just kind of desensitizing him a little bit, getting him to come to me, and feel good being with me. After we moved to Crete, about a year ago, I started playing with him a lot. I started to teach him some tricks because I know that trick training is a great way to connect with your horse and build a horse’s confidence and trust. If you are going to use food you have to be very good about setting boundaries around food. Most trainers use treats. You need to show the horse enough respect that he earns his treat. You don’t just give him a treat, give him a treat, give him a treat. Let him earn it for effort at compliance and cooperation.

Anyway, Bongo and I became pals. I taught him a few simple things like to get up on a box with all four feet, to kick a ball around, and to pick up a foot on cue. Very simple stuff. He figured out pretty quickly that if I was near him and he picked up his foot he would get a treat. I would simply walk by the horse and he would pick up his foot when I didn’t want him to. So, I have to caution people to reward only what you want, and not to reward what you don’t want. In other words, when I walked by Bongo and he would pick up his foot, I wouldn’t reward him, but when he put his foot down and stood patiently, then I would give him a little treat. It was a small thing, but I became much more conscious about only rewarding what I wanted. What I wanted was for him to stand still, not to pick up his foot. I do recommend tricks to deepen the bond with the horse - to help build the horse’s confidence and self-esteem, and to develop a better relationship. Also, it offers the horse something else to do so that he is not just doing the same old same things all the time.

GM: One of your many clinics is on bridle-less riding. Going bridle-less is an intimidating thought for many riders. What are the steps and techniques to follow when learning to ride bridle-less?

FL: Yes, to ride bridle-less many folks go through a lot of fear. What can help is to first of all, start riding in a small area, could be a round pen, maybe 15 to 17 meters across, that would be 50 to 60 feet across in diameter, or a small paddock. You get rid of the bridle and put a rope halter on the horse with a lead rope tied up like a rein. You start riding around the pen. If the horse starts to go too fast you just ride it out, as he’s not going to go anywhere because you are in a small confined area and he will want to slow and stop fairly soon. It won’t be very long before you can sit down a little bit heavier, maybe sit back a little bit and lift up that rein and then the horse is really going to slow down or stop. At that point, that’s when you ask him to go a little farther and then you ask him to stop again. Once you get the horse really good with stopping and turning with just a lead rope and halter, put a neck rope on the horse. A rope that will go around the horse that you can hold on to. You start riding with the rein in your hand the neck rope in your hand like a double bridle, and then you start controlling the horse and riding that way and eventually when you get real good at it you can let go of the rein and just use the neck rope. Although it seems to not be taught often or well, your cues are supposed to come from the proper use of your seat. Your hands just reinforce the seat. It’s not kick to go and then pull to stop. But, unfortunately, my experience is there are not a lot of teachers who teach you how to ride from your seat in a really good way. Basically, people are riding from their hands and using too much rein and too much of their heel and not enough seat, because nobody knows how to teach it. Maybe they are not that good at it themselves, therefore, they don’t know how to teach it. It seems that riding from the seat is sadly becoming a lost art.

GM: Riding bridle-less on the trail would require a lot of stamina and courage.

FL: Well, more than stamina and courage, it requires skill and a properly trained horse. You see a few riders that can do it out on trails. It takes quite a bit of time to develop a horse that you have that much confidence in that it is not going to take off with you when it gets a spook and it doesn’t have a bridle on. You have to take it nice and slow. It may take a couple of years to develop that. That’s okay. There are a lot of these guys that do these big extravaganza shows that use a lot of liberty and a lot of bridle-less stuff. They raise their own horses. When you’re raising your own horses, you can be with those horses every day and when you are not worried about earning a living, it can go a lot faster.

GM: What are your opinions about the current state of the US Bureau of Land Management’s handling of the Mustangs? What’s the solution?

FL: I think it’s disgraceful and awful. The cattle industry - the beef industry is so prevalent that they can dictate what goes on with the Mustangs and move them off of their natural range. Rounding up Mustangs and putting them in already overcrowded stockyards is disgraceful. As far as a solution, it’s a tough question. The government must question the ranchers. The cattle industry is out of control and is running our Department of Agriculture. The raising of cattle is ruining the environment. It’s taking too much of our land to produce livestock where crops should be. It’s very political and it is an industry that pollutes the environment. The rancher could give up a little bit of his land to the Mustang. The cattlemen have a lobby and the money to convince the government that they need to be able to do whatever they wish; that their way of life is essential and should not be altered. It is difficult to sway the government to diminish the cattle industry. It has been known for years that a diet of less meat and more good fruits and vegetables is healthier for humans. But old habits are hard to change.

GM: What are your views on selective breeding and the abandoned foals from the horseracing industry?

FL: When you get into selective breeding – it gets tricky because you really want to select specific characteristics beforehand, or at least you want to try to. It’s very expensive horses that you’re breeding, so you don’t want a horse out there that you are trying to show or race who cannot cut it. I can understand why they want to cull horses that they consider less than perfect. It’s a shame to send these horses, these foals, to slaughter. Perhaps they could be re-homed. They could make a nice backyard horse or trail horse for somebody, but you need to consider there are a lot of unwanted horses. There’s a lot of Mustangs that are just great that are being warehoused that will never be adopted or re-homed. So what to do about it? Do you want to slaughter some, or not… It’s a tough question. It’s a political question. I would rather see a horse go to slaughter than starve to death. I would rather see a horse’s life be brought to a quick abrupt end than to have them starved slowly over time or abused. To be candid with you, I am not 100% sure about the method of horse slaughter these days, which is a big issue. However, as far as moving these horses off that are unwanted, I suppose you spend a lot of money under the banner of breeding horses and you have limited resources. It’s not an easy answer. I don’t want to see any animal go to slaughter, but it’s better than to be abused or starved.

Gina: Do you have a rescue that you recommend here in the States?

Franklin: There’s a woman in California, Neda DeMayo.  She operates Return to Freedom, a horse rescue facility primarily for mustangs. I don’t know if she re-homes horses or sets some up for adoption. She can be found online and I suggest people contact her for advice. I really haven’t been in the States much for the last six years, and I am not current on that as I would like to be. I do know there are a lot of rescue centers. Use Google to find a rescue facility in your area. If people are diligent, they can find a place to go look and see what’s available.

BTW, my first US clinics in some time will be held in June at Horse Spirit Ranch. June 19-20-21 is the first one. June 26-27-28 is the second one. The first clinic is titled Beyond Natural Horsemanship - Training Through Trust and the second is Life Enrichment Through Success With Horses - Equine Facilitated Learning. Horse Spirit Ranch is online at and is located not far from San Diego, CA.

Gina: What are your views on imprinting foals?

Franklin: I like it, but I think you can overdo it. I think it is a good idea. I do it generally with my foals beginning with they are first hit the ground. But you have to remember to let them be a horse. What happens, unfortunately, people think the foal is so cute and so adorable and you want to love on them all the time. That’s not a good idea. Don’t try to turn your foal into a puppy, it’s a bad idea. Certainly, you want to get that foal where you can halter him, touch him all over; his feet, his head, ears, inside his mouth – everywhere. You want to be able to handle that horse, but you want to keep the sessions very short as a foal’s attention span is extremely limited. You don’t want to do it all the time. You want to do it very moderately with the amount of time you take to do this because you can overdo it and it will backfire on you.

GM: What reference materials do you recommend for imprinting foals?

FL:  I recommend Dr. Robert Miller. He is one of the initial proponents of imprinting. He has written books on it. I would recommend again using Google to find Dr. Miller.

GM: Your motivational quotes - #HORSEYWISDOM - are inspiring and fun. Everyone enjoys reading your daily horse wisdom on face book. It is exciting to know that you are compiling these posts into a collection for an upcoming book release! When is the anticipated release date your new book #HORSEYWISDOM?

FL: #HORSEYWISDOM will be out hopefully by this summer, fall at the latest. For fun I announced the book yesterday on face book. Did you see the response? I could have sold over 200 books yesterday if I actually had the book available, that’s how big the response was. It was amazing. The terrific and eye catching cover has been designed by artist Lucy Barry. She’s really a very talented artist. She can be found on Face Book.

Franklin’s credentials are extensive in the equine world of who’s who.  He has been showcased in many magazines, radio and TV appearances, webinars, podcasts, and more for years. As an actor, he had the opportunity to be a principle character in the movie September Dawn starring Jon Voight.  His intense desire to be of service to humans and horses prompted him to recently create A Course in Horse Mentorship as a convenient way to learn his effective and efficient methods of horsemanship over the phone with emailed support. Contact Franklin at WWW.ACOURSEINHORSE.COM to find out how you he can help you in becoming a better horseman or woman.  

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Above the Rail May/June

What to eat for breakfast before the horse show? 

Read my new article 
10 Easy Breakfast Ideas (page 30) to get your metabolism roaring and your game on! 

See you at the show!

May/June Issue

Bonnie Thibodeau

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Life Without Stirrups by Dagny Mofid

Life Without Stirrups
A Witty Memoir About One Person’s Gallop Through Life

By Dagny Mofid

Thanks Dagny for connecting! I enjoyed reading your new book and look forward to your future releases! 

Dagny writes a heart-felt journey of horses. She reiterates, as thousands before her, that a horse lover will go to great lengths to be able to follow their passion – horses. In her well-written account of genuine horse-love, she lets you know that life is better with stirrups than without. Through hurricanes, midlife boredom, ice storms, and so much more, Dagny will keep you intrigued and motivated through each chapter. Recommended reading for everyone – not just horse lovers. Everyone will appreciate her journey, her passion and complete love for life. 

Congratulations, Dagny, on a wonderful recount of your life with horses. 

About the Author

Dagny Mofid is not internationally acclaimed - although having practiced acceptance speeches in front of a mirror for years, she can be ready at a moment’s notice. In her spare time, but only after doing the dishes and folding clothes, she writes. Known for lighthearted humor and sarcastic wit, her writing has appeared in newspapers and journals. She has also ghostwritten a riding instruction manual. After roaming around much of North America, she now lives with her childhood sweetheart in the warm desert of southern Utah. She is still wondering how she got there.

Connect with Dagny...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vickie Ball-Seiter, Journey with Horses Professional Life Coach

From Ohio, USA, Vickie Ball-Seiter has spent years living abroad. Global travel has inspired her to incorporate the most appealing (and healing) aspects of her cultural experiences to create a satisfying life and business as a professional life coach. Vickie is the proprietor of Journey with Horses, a coaching facility where Vickie leads her clients through a simple and transformational process alongside a 1000 lb. horse!   

Although Vickie may come across as a bundle of joy and gentleness she has a can-do attitude and philosophy that is unstoppable! In her own words she is a stand for people making creative, conscious choices for the expression of the authentic self.

Vickie’s primary focus is on providing coaching support for those Givers who Care. Individuals, teams and groups whose job it is to care for the health and well-being of others who are not able (or barely able) to care for themselves. She believes there can be balance without burn-out for our most self-sacrificing population.

Welcome Vickie!

What is Journey with Horses?
I am an equine assisted coach.  I have experienced a journey with horses and wish to share my empowering experience.  Coaching is co-creating a relationship.  As an added layer I can partner with horses to expand sacred space for people to explore their attitudes, passions, desired, emotions, etc.

What can I expect from a discovery session?
Discover strengths about yourself!!  Discover the world within you.

You are intriguing and I wonder about your Reiki methods. How do you impart/intertwine Reiki? 
Pronounced ray key…
Rei=”God’s wisdom or the Higher Power” and ki=life force energy.
Reiki is spiritually guided life force energy healing.  Everyone can be a healer; one only needs to learn to access it.  A treatment feels like a wonderful glowing radiance flowing through and around you. 

What inspires you the most about horses?
They are huge, gentle sentient beings.  They are in the moment and don’t hold on to anything.  Every day is a new day.  My forte is non-verbal communication-a perfect match.

When was your first encounter with a horse?
Three and a half years ago.  A neighbor rode by on one of her horses and I stopped her and said, “I need horse time.” I had NO clue what that meant.  Several days later I met her at her barn.  She asked me which horse I would like to ride.  I didn’t know, and one of the horses started moving his head back and forth.  Bo picked me.  When I’m riding Bo he does more for me than his owner.  It is a match made in heaven.  We are both leaders and curious.

Do you have a horse anecdote to share?  
I was in the pasture with Bo, Rocky and Comet.  I brought brushes so the horses could choose to be groomed or not.  Bo LOVES to be groomed.  There was a huge snapping turtle about 15’ from us.  I suddenly noticed Bo had moved be to within 5’ of the turtle.  Bo and I both turned our attention to said turtle (standing side by side).  It had a huge clump of dirt on its shell so I was going use a big stick to attempt removal.  Well, when the turtle snapped at me, both Bo and I jumped backward at the same time.  We looked at each other and (I swear) laughed.  I moved Bo a little further away from the turtle and finished grooming him.

I was given a horse because he couldn’t be caught.  I did not know that, so when I went into his paddock he walked right up to me!  The owner said, “If you can work with him, you can have him.”  

I do many things with horses that horse people say, “You can’t do that with a horse.” What block do you impose upon yourself??  I do things with horses because no one told me I couldn’t.

What horses do you stable?  
We have a Paso Fino and two minis.  We are planning on a pasture track as soon as we move.  Please let me know if you want to hear more.  As soon as we sell our current home we are moving to Chesterhill, Ohio.  The house has a barn and pasture.  We need to put up a fence. We have done a lot of planning.

Do you have a favorite breed?  
I am not breed specific.  I love them ALL!!

What training methods do you prefer?  
If you get a chance read Mark Rashid’s book HorsesNever Lie, it is wonderful. Rashid shares about allowing horses to make choices.  I believe horses want to be safe and please.  Spend time with them and figure out their language.  Figure out how they react to you and your communication.  It is a relationship between two sentient beings.  Horses are amazing communicators!!

As a world traveler, where in the world do you like to land, ride and reverence life?  
I want to ride my friends horse Bo in a parade because we love to be together and show off.  I would also like to swim with him.  I love water and have seen others swimming with horses and dream about it.  I can see myself sharing horses with Europeans.  I am looking for any open-minded people who are curious about experiences with horses.

Connect with Vickie…

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

FVF Clay Creations

From USA, meet Nickole, the proprietor and creator of FVF Clay Creations! Creating cute sculptured ponies with a whimsical flair, Nickole molds each pony by hand. Using top-quality clay, she can create a pony just for you!

Welcome Nickole!

When was your first encounter with a horse?
My first encounter with a horse was an evil little pony my mother bought me. When I was a little girl I always wanted a horse. I learned to love that evil little pony and now I stable Arabian horses at Fern Valley Farm.

Stallion R Khasper of Fern Valley Farm (c)
When did you begin sculpting and creating?
I started creating and sculpting my ponies almost 1o years ago. I got the idea when I was playing with my son and his Play-Doh. He asked me to make a pony.  So, I purchased some good sculpting clay and that was when my ponies were born!

Tell us about your custom sculptors...   
I create a lot of custom ponies. They start from $25 for a basic, and go up depending on the details. All I need are pictures, information and what you would like. My father, the proprietor of JM Originals also makes little barns for my ponies that can be hung on the wall or as an accent piece in your home.

Do you have a favorite pony of your own creation?
Yes, I do have a favorite pony (see below)! I just love the colors I put into her and the way her mane flows. I feel she is the best I have created so far, but then again, I love all the ponies I create; a little part of me goes into each one!!

How long does it take your to create a pony?
It takes at least 2 hours to make a pony, but depending on the details, it can take half a day or even longer.

Do you travel the horse/equine circuit?
I will be at the Midwest Horse Fair in Madison, Wisconsin again next year (April 15-17, 2016).

What does horsemanship mean to you?
Horsemanship means bonding with your horse, learning to trust your horse and they learn to trust you. Nothing can be built without trust.

Connect with Nickole…

Friday, May 8, 2015

Paul Travers, Author

Born, raised and educated in Baltimore, Maryland, Paul Joseph Travers received a B.A. degree from the University of Maryland in English and an M.A. degree from Pepperdine University in Business Management. He served in the United States Marine Corps as an amphibious armor officer and later worked for the Maryland Park Service as a park ranger/historian.

Travers is the author of The Cowgirl and The Colts: A Story of the 1st Female NFL Mascot the captivating story of Carolyn Clark and her pony Dixie. The daughter of legendary jockey Willie Clark, Carolyn rode into the pages of football history as the first female mascot in professional football.

Travers hobbies include the 3 R's, (w)riting, running and rudimenting (drumming). In addition to writing, he also lectures on American history and conducts writing workshops for young writers. His current work-in-progress is a historical novel about a young missionary nun who travels to the deep South in the early 1940's to battle racial prejudice and religious bigotry.

Welcome Paul Travers!
Thank you for your military service.

You watched Carolyn Clark and Dixie during the football games.  What memory stands out the most?
Just watching Carolyn talk to Dixie and getting her ready to gallop around the cinder track at Memorial Stadium just as the Colts were ready to score.  Seconds before putting her foot in the stirrup, she would whisper in Dixie’s ear and then gently stroke the side of her neck.  Carolyn and Dixie were positioned near the corner of the end zone below the grandstand where I was sitting with the Police Boys’ Club.  Along with her parents, they were the closest people that I could see, so naturally my attention was usually focused on them.  It was infatuation with a young cowgirl just a few years older than me and a sense of envy in that she was on the field with my childhood heroes, the Baltimore Colts.  For more info regarding this question, please see the Baltimore Sun article (The cowgirl, the old Colts and a pony named Dixie).  

How old was Carolyn when she rode as the mascot?  How many years was she the mascot?
Carolyn started as the mascot in 1959 at the age of ten and continued until 1964 for a total of six years.  After that year, she resigned the position at age fifteen to focus on her promising equestrian career.  By the time of her death, she was an accomplished horsewoman who had been riding since the age of two.  A few years before her death, she started her jumping career with the hope of eventually becoming the first female jockey to ride in a Triple Crown race.

Did you know Carolyn and have the opportunity to interview her?
This is the sad footnote to the story.  In October 1965, Carolyn, her mother, and an apprentice jockey, were involved in a serious automobile accident while returning from a horse show in New Jersey.  The driver fell asleep and the vehicle hit a bridge abutment, instantly killing Carolyn, who had just turned sixteen, and the jockey.  Carolyn’s mom Dorothy survived the accident after sustaining serious head injuries.  The accident eventually led to the break-up of the marriage between Willie and Dorothy.  As Willie often told me, “After the accident, I hit the bottle, my marriage hit the skids, and I hit the road for Charles Town.”  Charles Town, West Virginia, was the place where Willie finished his career (at one time the oldest active jockey in the US) and resided for the rest of his life.  

Tell us about Dixie.  What breed of pony?
Dixie was a registered Welsh mare pony under the name of Crayfield Starlight.  In reality, the name Dixie was a stage or show name in keeping with the other ponies that preceded her.

Did you get to meet her father, jockey Willie Clark?  What was he like?
I first met Willie in December 2002 after I got the idea to write about Carolyn and Dixie.  I re-read the Sports Illustrated article about Willie in my file and was very doubtful about my chances of interviewing him.  According to the article, he couldn’t talk about Carolyn because her death was still a very raw emotional issue.  On a lark, I phoned the PR department at Charles Town Racetrack to see if he was still around.  Before I could finish introducing myself, I was connected to the track kitchen and in a matter of seconds, much to my surprise, was speaking to Willie.  He was hesitant at first as expected, but after I explained who I was and what I was doing, he agreed to meet with me at the track kitchen.  At our first meeting, Willie showed me some pictures of Carolyn and tears rolled down his face.  Seeing a rather distraught Willie, the other horse people in the kitchen immediately rushed over to see this obvious stranger, more like intruder dressed in a sport coat and turtleneck, who was upsetting Willie.  As everyone gathered around the table, Willie passed around the pictures and told them about Carolyn. 

To my amazement, no one knew even knew that Willie had a daughter, much less a daughter who was an accomplished horsewoman and once upon a beloved member of the Baltimore Colts.  In my heart, I always felt that first meeting was the spiritual and emotional “healing” moment for Willie that had eluded him after the death of Carolyn.  He had finally found some inner peace.  

After that initial meeting, I would drive up to Charles Town and meet with Willie about every three or four months.  And before sat down to talk about Carolyn, I would take him shopping or to doctor’s appointments.  It was the least I could do for a man who was sharing with me the most painful and tragic chapter in his life.  Slowly, I would get bits and pieces of Carolyn’s life that were the basis for the book.  This friendship lasted until Willie’s passing.  At the time of his death on November 25, 2006, we were finishing the last of his stories about Carolyn, some of which were never fully completed.  In January 2007, I called the retirement home where Willie lived to tell him the good news about finding a publisher.  Needless to say, I was shocked and saddened to learn that my friend Willie had died right after Thanksgiving.  I had two regrets.  One, I didn’t get all the details about some of Carolyn’s adventures.  Willie had promised to save some names and places until the very end.  The other, and perhaps the biggest disappointment, is that I never saw the day when I could show Willie the book jacket with the picture of Carolyn and Dixie on the front.  To see the look on Willie’s face would have been a magical moment. 

In the end, Willie was a unique, one-of-a kind character who “did it his way.”  Under that persona that was as tough as old saddle leather, there was a gentle and caring man with a heart of gold who never really came to grips with the death of his daughter until the very end of his life.  I am grateful for having been a part of that process.  I believe the Sports Illustrated article will explain more about life and times of Willie Clark

Who is your favorite author?
I am a voracious reader who devours non-fiction, especially memoirs and road trip books.  I usually tell people that what I am currently reading is by my favorite current author.  But to select a few, I have always enjoyed the works of travel writers such as Jonathan Raban and Ted Conover.  Recently, I have become acquainted with the books of Kent Nerburn who writes about Native American culture with a focus on spiritual themes and values.  What a delight!  I was hooked from the first page.  For a Christmas gift, I was given a copy of “If You Build It…” by Dwier Brown, the actor who played Ray Kinsella’s dad in the movie Field of Dreams, which is one of my all-time favorite flicks.  Not only is it a fascinating the behind-the scenes look at the making of the movie, but it’s a collection of narratives from everyday people that the author encountered when he was recognized in public as John Kinsella, the baseball ghost come to life.     

What are you currently writing?
I am currently writing a memoir of my Appalachian Trail hike in 2009 from the standpoint of a spiritual journey.  For me the hike was a profound physical, emotional, and spiritual experienced that greatly impacted my life.  In essence, it was a pilgrimage much like the El Camino de Santiago in Spain.  The hike was named “Herm’s Hike,” a fundraiser in honor of my father who was a late stage Alzheimer’s patient at that time.  One thing for sure, I found out it’s much easier to write about other people, places, and things than about your own most heartfelt thoughts and feelings.  It’s a slow, but very rewarding, process. I’m moving ahead one sentence at a time.   

Do you have any advice for novice writers?
Good readers make good writers.  If you have a favorite author, go back and re-read some their works with a critical eye to see how they make the words work for you.  As for becoming a better writer, it’s really no secret.  Just keep writing, writing and writing.  Don’t worry too much about content in the beginning.  What you really want to do is amass a tremendous collection of words.  Always capture your immediate thoughts down on paper whenever you’re inspired, whether it be on a napkin, sales receipt, or whatever you have at hand.  Most importantly, enjoy the agony and ecstasy of the creative experience.  It’s a wonderful drug that will your expand your horizons.

List 10 things your fans may not know…
As a literary compromise, I’ll give you five about me and five about Carolyn and Dixie. About me in no particular order:
#1 -I love to read lyrics as poetry, especially from the American Songbook and singer-songwriters from the mid-60s to early 70s.  For instance, the Beatles and bands from the British Invasion wrote some great lyrics with some fantastic poetic hooks.  Same goes with folksingers of the era with people like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, to name a few of my many favorites.  I hear and feel the intoxicating mountain music of southern Appalachia in their works.  Oh, it’s so sweet and pure.      

#2 - I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2009 as a grass roots fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association, collecting over $7,000.

#3 – I work at a ballpark tour guide at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  Come visit me at the ballpark.  Don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this walk in the park.  

#4 – I love to hike and bike.  Getting on my bike, always make me feel like I’m ten years old again. 

#5 - In college, I used to ride with the women’s horse club when I was fancying a filly of the two-legged variety.  I quickly learned that I had a lot to learn about four-legged and two-legged fillies.

Bonus Fact – I served in the United States Marine Corps.  Semper Fi, indeed!

About Carolyn and Dixie in no particular order:
#1 - Carolyn and Dixie were nominated (sadly, not selected) for the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2008.  I will always be grateful to Grand Dames of the Old and New West who wrote liner notes for the book and lovingly embraced Carolyn as one of their own.  What a tremendous group of accomplished ladies and cowgirls.  A special shout-out goes to cowgirl Sherri Mell who welcomed Carolyn into this elite circle of horsewoman.  Also, a very special thank you to John Ziemann, president of the Baltimore Marching Ravens and one-time band member and president of the Baltimore Colts marching band who was instrumental in researching the life and times of Carolyn Clark.           

#2 - All the events in the book are based on actual events in Carolyn’s life.  The book was written as historical fiction because some of the essential details were forever lost with the death of Willie Clark.

#3 - Carolyn wanted to be the first female jockey to ride in a Triple Crown race.  She did lead horses onto the track at Pimilco Race Course for the Preakness Day Powder Puff Derby for five-year olds.  

#4 – After Carolyn’s death, Dixie lived out her remaining days at a neighboring farm owned by a U.S. Senator.

#5 - The Baltimore’s Colts cowgirl outfit, worn by Carolyn, was donated to the Sports Legends Museum in Baltimore, where it awaits restoration.  The whereabouts of the silver belt buckle, which she was awarded after the Baltimore Colts won the 1959 NFL championship, remains unknown.

Connect with Travers...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Egyptian Horses

Egyptian Horses
Guest Post by Joe Migalla

The sun rises behind the east bank mountains and slides sunshine all over ancient Egyptian temples to reveal one of its powerful secrets that made Egypt once one of the most paramount empires. Meet the legendary creatures that made a print all over history; The horse. 

Horses entered Egypt at the end of the Middle Kingdom, about 1780 BC. The arrival of the horse has been associated with groups entering the desert known to the ancient Egyptians as the Hyksos (the rulers of deserts). Soon Egyptians loved horses and began to acquire the best breeds of the Arabian Peninsula. The most beautiful gifts that came to the Pharaoh of Egypt include the horse.

The ancient Egyptians started using horses in war by chariot, which is a type of carriage using horses to provide rapid motive power. The Pharaohs used their excellence in the field of horses to fight wars and battles, as well as their attention in the royal stables to take good care of horses. They decorated saddles with gold and silver, just like the royal golden chariot of the young king Tutankhamen, as discovered in his tomb. Egyptian temples were covered with graffiti to show the importance of horses; loved by kings and nobles.

Luxor was one of the cities in Egypt that preserved the heritage of horses and chariots, but now only for picnics. You can see the ancient city through the people and their passion of horses, giving all the care horses need. It is one of the reasons that Egypt's horse breeds are one of the best all over the world - because its people made sure of it and that comes from their passion. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Robert A. Benjamin, Author

Robert A. Benjamin is a well-rounded writer. He has penned four novels, including his new release A Gift of Dreams.  Besides writing, Robert is a lover of all things aviation and is eager to talk about his flying adventures. He is also an accomplished artist and teacher...

Welcome Robert!

What is your favorite memory of growing up in the ‘50’s? 
Looking back over half a century later, I would have to say that the best part of growing up during the 1950’s in a traditional New England village, the son of a traditional New England family, was the pervasive sense of community that was always part of the place. I knew where I fit and what was expected of me. I knew that if I continued to do well in school and to meet the expectations set by my elders, I could count on knowing I would be allowed, for example, to spend a warm Saturday afternoon carrying one of my “gas-engine-powered” model airplanes and a cumbersome tool kit of control lines, fuel and other paraphernalia the quarter mile from our back door to the baseball field behind the Town Hall. I could start my admittedly noisy engine and fly at will as long as I remembered not to have to be asked to be out of the way in time for baseball team practice, and I knew that I could depend on that to be possible tomorrow and the day after that as well. I was intelligent enough to recognize that a comfortable, even privileged state of affairs like this could not last forever, that growing up would mean the end of it, but while it was real it was wonderful.

Did your radio control plane fly?
It sure did! Some of the decisions I chose to make in order to achieve that youthful goal changed my life in ways far beyond the building of model airplanes and an abiding interest in the entire world of aviation, but in the end much of the focus of that life would come back to aeromodeling.  I have become an internationally recognized competitor in the field of building and flying scale model airplanes by radio control, a prolific contributor over the past thirty five years to the model aviation periodical community, and recently an elected member of the U.S. Model Aviation Hall of Fame. How all that came to be is in large part what my books are all about.

You said you have dared to be different. How were you different?”
The model airplanes were a large part of that but there was more to it, and I would have failed to fit in even if I had nurtured a different interest. By the time I had reached junior high school age, I knew that I would rather take a newly-built model airplane out to an open (and deserted) field to see whether I could get it to fly than share the adolescent camaraderie that I knew would come with learning to do a better job of pretending to care whether or not I could be counted on to catch a hard-hit baseball. I developed a tendency to see through social phenomena that were supposed to be vital to the essence of “being a teenager”…for instance, I can remember being seriously puzzled by all the interest most of my peers were lavishing on somebody called Elvis Presley.  The results of admitting things like that were painful, but never painful enough to make me give up being the way I was.

Who is your niche market and who would enjoy reading your books?
There are so many things going on in the sequence of experiences that I have explored and shared in the Imperfectly Ordinary books that it has taken me a while to work out the best answer to that question.  In short, my ideal reader is anyone who can identify in any way with those model airplanes, and it turns out that there are probably a lot more of those folks around than you might at first imagine. Whenever I pose the question, “Did you ever build a model airplane that would fly, or try to, or know someone else who did, or maybe wished later that you had dared?” On average about half of them respond with a nod or a few words of affirmation.  That’s a lot of potential readers…but…that’s not all there is to it. I submit that traditional model airplane building is a legitimate American cultural icon. I have come to accept that I am a keeper of that tradition of skills and interests, and most of my current writing is being done in support of that notion. How and why I got to be this way makes for a considerable collection of stories.  

What is the premise of your Trilogy Imperfectly Ordinary?
Knowing that I was “different” was a fact of life for me from a very early age. Knowing how and why all that came about, and most important, what I was supposed to do about it has been the focus of a lot of effort on my part over most of my life. The question, “What am I?” has always been at the center of it. I had indeed finished writing the first of my books (A Gift of Dreams)  before I managed to recall a conversation with my parents when I was thirteen or fourteen years old. My tearful confession that, “I don’t know what to do because the other kids won’t stop teasing me because I’m too smart,” prompted a sharp reply from my primly Puritan mother. Concerned that I was about to stumble even further into making a poor impression in the community, she lectured me; “You’re no different from any of the other kids at school. You’d better get busy growing up and start acting like you are perfectly ordinary…and start learning to fit in and get along!” Years later it came to me that the best I had ever been able to manage in response was to be imperfectly ordinary.

The title of one of your novels is Side Door to Heaven. Is there a side door to heaven?
Yes. It took me a long time to work out what that’s all about. It’s one of the central themes of the Trilogy, but it’s also a very subtle notion. You will have to read the books yourself to appreciate what it might means for you.

“He is also an accomplished artist…”  Tell us about that…
For a long time, “art”, as in creating paint-on-canvas representations and working to make them good enough that real galleries would want to show them was one of the most important parts of my life.  I’ll let you decide for yourself, based on the images of my work that we’ve shared, whether that work ever became good enough to be taken seriously. In any event, I don’t do that anymore. Why is a question I won’t even try to answer here. You will have to read my Imperfectly Ordinary books…especially Side Door To Heaven…to discover the answers.

The several images I’ve shared with you are all paintings in acrylic medium on canvas or illustration board. The largest are all 40” x 30”.  Several are part of a project I did on U.S. Naval Aviation during the 1980’s and ‘90’s; the “others” are from my long series of classic private and racing airplanes of the 1930’s and ‘40’s. All are now in either private collections or museums; several were reproduced as magazine covers.

Who/what has had the biggest impact on your writing?
My first response to that question is that I have never had a favorite writer. In just about everything I find worth reading I encounter something about that writing (as distinct from that particular content) that interests me; perhaps even tempts me to emulate it. In a broad sense my approach to creating narrative nonfiction owes a generous debt to my academic studies of literature, history and philosophy at Bowdoin College. In contrast to that broad sweep of influence, I want to credit one specific journalist…William Winter, editor of several successful model aviation magazines from the 1940’s on into the ‘70’s…for inspiring me to write like Bill Winter, so the reader can believe he’s been there with you.

Describe your writing/editing style and routine…
That’s easy.  Over the past ten or fifteen years I have created a comfortable, productive work routine. Almost invariably I will draft new material, whether for a book project, a magazine feature or for my online presentations “by hand”, ball-point-pen-on-white-paper style, in the café of the Olympia, Washington Barnes & Noble Bookstore. (That’s where I’m sitting right now, drafting these answers.) My preference is to do this in the morning when the world is wide awake and fresh for me. It might be of interest that the fifteen minutes or so it takes me to drive there from home serves as an excellent mental buffer…an “idea insulator”. When I sit down there with that big cup of black coffee every part of me acknowledges that you’re here to write. The first stage of my editing is always at home in front of my desktop computer …transcribing those longhand first drafts, hours or perhaps day later, is the best way I’ve found to knock the worst of the rough edges off them. Next I’ll edit those printouts back at the café, bring them home for cleaning up, and then repeat that edit-and-polish routine as many times as necessary to get it right.

What are you currently reading?
That’s a tough one. Because I so enjoy literary imagery…not just creating it but also getting lost in reading it…I tend to ration my reading time pretty strictly in order to get as much writing done as I like.  Most recently I did indulge myself in the first five books of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (that my wife left handily in sight for me to “discover”). I liked the mental challenge of keeping the multiple/simultaneous character and plot developments in order, and, yes, the rich imagery as well.

What are you currently writing?
That’s another tough one.  I have a historical novel set in Essex, Massachusetts, the village I wrote about in A Gift of Dreams, well-researched and partly planned, but I’ve set it aside until I can assure myself that I have it headed in the right direction. With that creative lapse confessed, I have to admit that I’m exercising my pen nearly every day, but I’m still not quite sure where the output is leading me. My best guess (as I sit here pen in hand) is that I’ll compile and edit some of the model airplane material that’s being so well received by magazine and online readers alike into yet more narrative nonfiction exploring my American cultural icon theme.

Do you have advice for beginning writers?
Yes. It will be easy to hear, but tougher to follow…WRITE ! Whether it’s good, bad or indifferent, whether or not there’s even the ghost of a chance it’ll get published…WRITE (and then let somebody else read it). As you make your own way along that step path you’ll work out what you want to write about and get plenty of those rough edges knocked off in the process. The more you write, the more you learn to write. “Style” comes with experience.  Where it all leads in the end will be up to you.

List a few things your fans may not know about you…
1.   Regardless of the passion for airplanes of all sizes I share throughout my work, I spent many of my “growing up” years in intimate touch with the tradition of building wooden boats. You can get the details about that by reading A Gift of Dreams.

2.   I was a college dropout during the worst years of the Vietnam War. (I also worked my way back onto campus and graduated four years late. (Read I Promised You Daisies for that story).

3.   I’ve worn that trimmed beard you see in my headshots since shortly after being married in 1975. My wife, Teryl, put me up to it and urged me to keep it. (No, it wasn’t white then!)

4.   I have a “thing” for cats. I like all animals, even dogs that belong to somebody else, but I relate to kitties…you have to work hard to gain their real trust.  Teryl and I have rescued MANY of them over the forty years or so we’ve been together.

5.    I prefer classical music. Mozart rocks!

6.   Part of the gift I talk about in A Gift of Dreams was what we now refer to as intellectual giftedness (being scary-smart). In those days nobody where I lived knew what to call it, other than perhaps too-smart-for-my-own-good.  There were many times when I believed it to be anything but a gift, and in my writing I have tried to share some of the pain that, for young Bobby Benjamin, came with it.

Connect with Robert…