Horses online and off

Would you be willing to politely pretend that it hasn’t been 10 months since I posted here? Thank you.

The thing is, I seem to have regressed or, in a more upbeat metaphor, to have looped around the spiral once more to where a youthful horse obsession rules my consciousness. Except this time, unlike in my younger days, the spiral brought with it the internet.
Which leaves us with what we refer to around my house as “horse porn.“ That is where I consume an absurd amount of time reading about, and looking at pictures of, countless accomplished and/or gorgeous equine four-leggeds and (sometimes) their human companions.

Before explaining further, I want to point out that prior to horse porn we had “rug porn.” That was DH though, not me (you know, DH, dear husband). He found a site with, like, tens of thousands of oriental rugs for sale. And spent hours and hours (and hours and hours and hours, I’m not kidding) shopping for one. He bookmarked batches of 20 at a time and asked for my opinion. Which was confusing to me. I mean, they all looked pretty good, and it’s not like they would get up and show off their lofty trot or bascule over a jump. But I looked and, as best I could, separated out a group of favorites to help him narrow it down. This went on for weeks until he finally made a selection.

Since I’d started referring to his obsession as rug porn, it seemed only fair to turn the tables on myself and label my own comparable online time-suck as horse porn.
I’m blaming my horse porn habit on the birth of River, the foal I mentioned back in one of those early posts. Paisley’s foal of 2012 was born May 1; a large chestnut colt with three stockings and a blaze. Adorable. DH and I went to see him his first day on this earth. Paisley was led from the foaling stall into a field and her baby, naturally, followed. He saw the sky for the first time, and grass. And us. I doubt he remembers, but we have pictures. Videos, even.

And that fast, after three years, I owned a horse again.

Not only that, but I became instantly interested in the breeding of warmblood sport horses, something I’d not thought much about before. During my last round of horse shopping, when I bought Paisley, I had met and emailed with two or three breeders, but I didn’t think about the whole breeding thing. I was looking for a youngster to grow up into my riding horse and didn’t think about it much more than that. This time I found myself clicking through many a page of breeders’ websites. I looked at young foals and compared them to mine, drooled at videos of fabulous stallions; contemplated bloodlines; and intensely followed an online forum about sport horse breeding.

The forum in particular was kind of amazing. I’m sure many of these folks are thoughtful, intelligent individuals offline. However as a group they are The Real Horsewives of North America: opinionated, argumentative, rude. Posting stuff no one would say in person. To quote a popular post when things heated up, “bring on the popcorn.”

But the idea of breeding (horses, not horsewives) seeped into my consciousness. I imagined finding my own mare and choosing a stallion for her. Then I started looking at sales ads. I wanted to start riding again, and you can ride a horse through much of her eleven (or so) month pregnancy, and of course again after weaning. So I imagined finding one who would be a nice riding horse too. She could have a foal every few years and I’d ride her the rest of the time.

So shopping for broodmares became another daily activity. I’d make a daily round of sales sites and Facebook pages. And of course, even more stallion pages, researching the best match for the mare I didn’t have yet.

As River grew, I went to see him every few days. He was attractive to begin with and getting nicer as he developed. I chatted with the breeder.  We were following the progress of River’s yearling half-sister (out of Paisley, but sired by another one of the breeder’s stallions) in the show ring. I had visited this filly, named Arbor Day, the summer before in the pasture with Paisley, and she was as friendly as could be. I felt like her “auntie” and was excited about her success. I decided to go to the prestigious Devon, Pennsylvania horse show at the end of May and watch her compete.

As you can see, my habit was progressing. Online horse porn was only the first step. Next I began planning a trip across the country for the real thing.


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My Altar

My cousin Reva called from Maine recently to tell me she’d received the copy of INCENSED I sent her. We got to talking about “the radish” in chapter 1, and I told her about the radish made from felt I found while visiting her a couple of summers ago. I loved having it around while I worked on the book, and now it has a place on my altar. Reva wanted to see the altar, so I took some pictures to send her, then decided it would be fun to write about here.

The radish is right in the center of this picture.  For sizing and a better view, here’s the radish on the keyboard of my MacBook Pro.

I’m sorry I don’t know the name of the artist who made this. She does a lot of vegetables, also puppets. There are so many amazing craftspersons in that area – the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle. Anyway, if you’ve read INCENSED, you know why I had to have the radish. If I publish my earlier novel, THE COLIN FIRTH FILM FESTIVAL, I’ll need to get an eggplant, if there is one. Eggplant is the name of a black Lab puppy in that book.

Sitting behind the radish to the left is the “tacky dolphin candle” mentioned in the INCENSED acknowledgements. That item showed up on my doorstep unexpectedly. I later found out it was compliments of my writing group; I now can’t remember why, but maybe it was after I finished the first draft.  The best part is the price tag they added: $159.99. What a bargain. And speaking of dolphins (spoiler alert):  If you’ve read the book, do you agree that Clickety-Whee-Whatever-His-Name-Is would make a better husband than Dirk? Comments welcome below.

The third writing-related item on the altar is the mirror with the word “Author” engraved on the cover, which Wendy gave the all the group members last year. Nothing quite like an affirmation, especially in silver. Still, with that on the cover, I keep expecting to see someone else in the mirror.  Jane Smiley, maybe. She’s a hero of mine. Fabulous writer AND a lover of Thoroughbred horses.

Speaking of horses, there are five horsey items on the altar.  More pictures:

The cute fuzzy guy on the left is wearing prayer beads. Behind him is a horse fetish. To the left, next to the Lady of Guadalupe, is a postcard my friend Vicky sent me.

My son is not thrilled that I keep so many things he made when he was little, but they make me happy. The oldest item – thus made when he was the youngest – is the heart-shaped box with the beads on it above.

Wow, just realized this is in the draft folder from last November.  I was going to write something new for this blog today but thought it would be fun to put this up first.  More soon (seriously).






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Playing (with) the Foal

Here’s what this post isn’t about: not having made a blog entry since the first one, way back several moons ago in October. INCENSED getting incredibly wonderful, appreciative feedback from so many readers (which it has) and defeating enormous odds to become a best seller (which it totally has in, you know, my imagination). And especially I don’t want to go on about all the promotion required from authors, who generally find it preferable to spend the time writing another book or washing their socks.

Here’s what the post is about instead: horses. One particular baby horse whose birth is expected in late April, just after my own birthday. Which is also the date (tra-la-la), when by happy coincidence, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play in San Jose. And then play twice more in LA, to which a small, enthusiastic band of Mill Valley Sparks’s (i.e., Tav, Bryn and me) are migrating. So as you can see, late April is shaping up nicely for someone who identifies herself as both an equestrian and a tramp. (Tramps: Bruce Springsteen fans so passionate they feel compelled to attend multiple concerts every tour.) Some tramps like us were also born to ride.

But about that baby horse. He – I’m hoping for a colt – will be the second foal from my mare Paisley. Well, she isn’t “my” mare anymore, she belongs to Gray Fox Farm in Petaluma, where she was retired to broodmarehood several years ago. The arrangement was for Paisley to live happily ever after being a mama, and for her second foal, should there be one, to come back to me. The signs look good for a healthy foal due April 30. Last year she had a gorgeous and very friendly chestnut filly named Arbor Day, by the stallion Aloha. This year’s baby will be sired by Romantic Star, a stunning jumping horse, dark bay.

The reason I thought it might be fun to write about the foal now, before he’s born, would be to follow his journey, and mine with him. From pre-birth to infinity and beyond.
I assume horses go to infinity. After Lucas, who was the horse I had before Paisley, died, I spoke with an animal intuitive-slash-communicator. In other words, a psychic, which brings us conveniently back to the milieus of both INCENSED and writing.  Writing because one of my novels-in-progress is a mystery about an animal intuitive named Misty Schwartz, working title ASS OVER ELBOWS. Yes, there is a donkey. Also a murder.

Anyway, about infinity…Lucas told me through the animal communicator that crossing over was no big deal.  He said it was just like going through the gate from one pasture to another. That was nice to know. He was just 4 1/2 when he got a colic too severe to treat and we euthanized him. He was a great guy, a super quiet Thoroughbred who never raced because I bought him at the Barretts sale in Pomona as a two-year-old, before he had a chance to go to the track.

Then I waited a year and a half and bought Paisley. She was meant to be my fancy warmblood hunter, since one of those as a trained grown-up horse is several times out of my price range. I’ve started and trained young horses before and they’ve gone on to successful show careers as hunters, jumpers and pleasure horses. Unfortunately Paisley developed a condition that made it painful for her work, hence her retirement.

So consider this Baby Horse Report Number 1: “Possibilities.” Coming soon (though not necessarily next): Naming the Foal.

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Jobs for Shamans

Post by Cary Jane Sparks, author of Incensed: The Novel. Cary lives in northern California with her husband, son, and Thunder the cat. In the process of organizing numerous workshops and conferences, she’s encountered an entertaining and inspiring variety of seekers and teachers, upon whom absolutely none of the characters in Incensed are based.

Jobs for Shamans

In writing Incensed, part of my inspiration was how much humor can be mined in the arena of personal transformation, which I actually do take, at least somewhat, seriously. Just to prove that you don’t have to make this stuff up, I recently received, from a person I’ll call “Norma”, the following email:

Subject: Are you a shaman?
Hey there,
I’m reaching out to you because (our website) is getting a lot of job leads for shamans, and I’m looking for another shaman who is interested in taking on more clients.

After checking out your website I think you are a great fit for (our website) and I’d love to start sending you job leads. Please fill out a few details about your skills and rates, and I’ll start forwarding you potential new clients.

If you have any questions about what (our website) can provide, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Now I think this is very interesting. Norma apparently did not even know my name (“Hey there”), and yet somehow was aware that I was, or might be a shaman. (A false assumption, as you will see below, yet intriguing.) Why would she presume so? Is Norma herself a shaman, with special shaman-recognizing powers? Could she have come across my email address in an shamanic directory somewhere, perhaps the Underworld? By “another shaman,” does she mean in addition to herself, because she has so many shaman assignments she can’t keep up with them all? Or perhaps she is more of an agent, matching shamans with those in need of one, for a percentage or a small fee.

Another fascinating point: Jobs for shamans? Really? In fact, this subject comes up in INCENSED, when Michaela returns home after having a profound inner experience (her first):

“She didn’t understand what she had gone through today at Rennie’s, but it felt significant. Rennie said her experience had elements of shamanism, which he explained as a kind of healing in native societies. Maybe she was supposed to be a shaman. Perhaps she was meant to go find a tribe somewhere that needed one, and offer her services. She wondered if they posted on Craigslist.

She didn’t know much about native tribes, but thought there were probably still some around, deep in rural Mexico, or the Amazon. But she hated being hot and sticky, and her Spanish wasn’t exactly mucho bueno. That’s if they even spoke Spanish. Some difficult, rare language, more likely, with sounds she wouldn’t be able to pronounce.

No, it would have to be American Indians. Northwest and Southwest tribes didn’t appeal to her because she felt their design elements had been overused. But there were some small, less famous tribes right here in California, judging by all the casinos. That was even better – close to civilization, in case she needed to shop for clothes or get a good meal. And if a casino tribe needed a new shaman, they could probably afford to pay her better.”

Not to toot my own horn (which, I should add, is not a magical giant Javanese snake horn, sold online for $368.72 USD, Excellent for Magickal Protection and Development, according to the website), but I did not even realize when I wrote the scene that “Jobs for shamans” was a real possibility!  Perhaps Norma is right, and I have more shamanic capabilities than I realized. Maybe I should consider her offer. I mean, if it worked out, I could write my next book and still take on a few of Norma’s “potential new clients.”

So I decided to respond:

Dear Norma,

This is the second email you’ve sent me.  I am surprised to hear there are job leads for shamans.  Is that true?  I have never said I was a shaman, but I know someone who might have those qualifications.  However it is not a job that one generally advertises for, so I’m very curious.


Unfortunately, Norma did not write back. Instead, I received a reply from “Louis,” presumably Norma replacement (or perhaps Norma herself was just out performing a ritual):

Hi Cary,

Thanks for the email, and sorry about the confusion! We spend a large portion of our day hunting around online and offline for good, trustworthy service providers. We get leads from personal websites, customer recommendations, and job boards, so we may have mixed you up with someone else.

However, we do have Shamans available on our site, and they have been providing there (sic) services when needed 🙂 You can try searching for them here: (our website)  “I’m looking for” [Shaman] + “Near me” [Location]

~ Louis, Customer Advocate

He also told me how to post my services, should I so wish.

I have to admire Louis, who is very polite, a trait perhaps more attributable to shamans than agents, although I’m sure it varies by individual. However I decided not to take Louis’s advice, and so I have not posted on their website. I just don’t feel ready. But if I should find I need a shaman, or maybe a job, it’s good to know Louis, and maybe even Norma, are available to help.

Cary Jane Sparks
Mill Valley, October 21, 2011

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