What Love Really Means

The answer to what love is has defied the best efforts of philosophers and poets, yet we know it when we see it, as these keen observations from children prove. 

“Karl, age 5: ‘Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.’ 

Billy, who is 4, had to think about it, but decided, ‘When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.’

And Rebecca observed, ‘When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So, my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.’”

And Teresa (TK) age. . . never mind . . . said, ‘Daddy is love–you can crawl onto his lap, and he will read the comics in the newspaper for you; you can crawl on his shoulders, and he will flip you over and over again! You can know you will always have a place to go if you need it; he will always be there.’

Thank you, Papa for everything and always. I love you . . . and that’s the most important thing.

T.K.Thorne is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her curiosity and imagination take her.  

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Just Joys

       

The whirling weeks have left me vaguely unsettled, looking for what I have “accomplished.” I am used to measuring that in terms of word count, and I don’t have many of those. Rather than wallow in guilt, perhaps word count is the wrong measurement. I decided to look back and ask, “What happened?” And specifically, “Where did I find joy?”

While I listened to the talented Lia Frederick bring my characters to life in an audio book version of *House of Rose (the first in a trilogy about a police officer who discovers she’s a witch), I pulled the grass/clover/weeds out of the moss on the brick walkway. You might call this gardening. I call it a Zen exercise.  

[* Contact me at TK@tkthorne.com to get a promo code for a free copy of this audiobook!]

During the early stress-filled days of the Pandemic, I found weeding the moss calming. It requires concentration (if you pull wantonly, the moss will pull up too; if you are lazy, other plants will take over.) One of the encroachers was a tiny flower with a deep violet base and translucent blue-white petals, perhaps large enough for an ant’s umbrella—a Japanese Mazus. I left it in the moss.

Two + decades ago, I worked in the Birmingham Police Department with two dear friends, Becky and Juanita. Becky recently had a hip replacement, and Juanita stepped up to be a full-time care-taker. (A lesson about the meaning of Love!) We visit regularly, and our tales ensure a lot of laughter, the good kind that runs deep as a river between us. Becky’s husband died not that long ago, and she asked me for a painting based on a photo he had taken on a special day. The photo is beautiful, a solitary duck and crimson reflections in the water of (unseen) day lillies on the bank above. Here is first stab at it:

The Left Coast Crime conference in Albuquerque, NM, was a mixture of delight in being with people and anxiety at the crowd after the last two years of isolating and masking. The highlight was being with my friends, Vikki and Kevin who were experiencing a writing conference for the first time. Also loved meeting fellow Stiletto Gang members, Donnell Ann Bell and Dru Ann Love. Didn’t get to talk much with Dru Ann (who was always surrounded by admirers!), but I sat at Donnell’s table at the banquet, and she kindly offered a ride to the airport, so we got to chat a bit, enough to know what a kind, generous person she is and hope our friendship grows.  

Also enjoyed extended conversations about writing and law enforcement stuff  with fellow panelists and police crime writers—James L’Etoile, Frank Zafiro, Dana King (and his wife, Corky), and Colin Conway. The best part of conferences is the people!

Brushed tangles from Foxy’s tail. Tomorrow it will be tangled again, but today it’s a silk flag in the wind, and she is prissy, knowing how beautiful she is (because I tell her constantly). She was a racehorse, but during the pandemic (or perhaps because her hooves don’t grow well) she was sold at auction with a future as dog food in Mexico if no one rescued her. She is such a baby, wanting constant petting and treats.

Janice is almost my age (i.e., an “elder”). We met this winter at a martial arts clinic (yes, really). She rode with her sensei (teacher) from Wyoming to Alabama! Fourteen hundred miles separate us, yet we chatted via email about tying up her gutter that fell in the Laramie wind to the porch with a bungee cord, and I told her about a piece of my day. The thread of a new friendship weaving across those miles lightened my heart.  

Our old dog, Glenny, walked all the way to the barn with me today.  Usually, he goes to the end of the yard and then abandons me, heading back to the house. This time I had to wait while he stopped often to read the “newspaper” of smells along the drive, a lesson in patience, but I was happy with his quiet company.

This is not Glenny in quiet-company mode. This is it’s-time-to-cook-dinner mode.

Colors in the water of Becky’s painting are giving me fits.  Do I still like it?  Yes . . . no.  Frustrating. Trying to push through the fear of an ugly mess, giving the paper the paint and waiting to see what it does with it.

Took some mint to my sister (so grateful she lives nearby) and helped her move hosta plants she had grown for years to her new house and decide where to put them, as well as an ornate wrought iron gate she bought at a yard sale. (She is a yard-sale queen!) She helped me load two trellis plant stands (that she would have sold, but gave to me), into the truck. I put them in the back yard in front of the ugly metal poles of the clothesline. Any thoughts what I should grow on them?  Clematis, maybe? Only partial sun back there.

More paint on the duck. Hoping Becky will like it. Hoping I will like it. Layers defining, softening, brightening. It will never look like the photo but that’s okay has long as it evokes the wonder of the light, the quiet dignity of the duck rippling through still water, but I don’t know if it’s working or not.  Really struggling with making this right.

I was up at midnight the night before taking this to Becky because it was still not right, but in the end, I went to bed feeling it was good, or as good as I could do. 

She cried when she saw it.  

Her happiness made me very happy.

Writing this woke me to the small joys that happen every day. Looking for “accomplishments,” I miss their significant. What a gift life is.  

*PS The audio book for House of Rose is under review by Audible.com and hopefully available very soon!

T.K.Thorne is a retired police captain who writes books, which, like this blog, go wherever her curiosity and imagination take her.  More at TKThorne.com

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A Brave Thing

  

My daughter recently posted this on Facebook:  


Dolly, I did a brave thing. During the pandemic, I started painting. That wasn’t brave, because nobody was looking over my shoulder pointing out my mistakes (the paintings did that!) But I really wanted to contribute something to the Pulpwood Queen Book Club’s silent auction for the Pat Conroy Literary Center. So here’s the brave thing—I did a “Low Country” watercolor and gave it to the silent auction.

It started out very ugly. (A good lesson for the drafts of our novels.) I was thinking that I might have to just throw it away and start over, but I decided I was having fun and just kept going. (Another lesson for writing.)

When I paint, I am often drawn to go “visit” the project while passing the studio (library/book storage/printer/extra-closet room).  As a painting dries, the colors lighten and the perspective changes. One night, I made my normal stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Drawn to the studio on the way back to bed, I looked at the work in progress in the dim light of the hall nightlight and insanely decided the color of the water wasn’t right. 

You have to understand, I am fortunate to find my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night (and the morning, for that matter.) Not bothering to sit, get my glasses, or turn on decent light, I grabbed a brush and started “fixing” it. 

The next morning, I braced myself to look at what I had done, certain it would be a disaster.

Amazingly, it looked okay.

When the painting was finished, I was happy with it. Then I panicked, realizing to meet the deadline, I  had to send a photo in to the auction. (A familiar panic, as it happens with every manuscript when I hit “send” to the editor.) I stalled as long as I could and then, with great trepidation I sent it. 

It was received kindly. But how else would polite people react? We praise a child’s art efforts no matter how primitive and stick it proudly to the refrigerator. The few friends, sister, and hubby with whom I had shared my attempts had been encouraging. But this was different. People who don’t know me were going to be looking at this, and I doubted they would want to pay to stick it on their refrigerator.

I berated myself:  You’re a writer, not a painter.  What were you thinking?

The auction was for a good cause and was open to the public, so I did my duty and posted it on Facebook with an invitation to the auction. I told myself the worst thing that could happen was that no one would bid on it and no harm would be done. I’d just go back in the artist closet and continue painting just because I loved doing it.

The response on Facebook was immediate: 


To say I was blown away by the warm and excited comments is an understatement. In spite of the fact that I am a Writer (took a long time and several books published to own that word), it slowly bloomed in me that perhaps I could be an Artist too. Tears repeatedly came to my eyes that so many people thought what I had created was beautiful. Some of them were “real” artists. At that point, it really would not have mattered if no one bid on it.

However, they did. In fact, there was a bidding war! The executive director of the Center said he “thought there was going to be a bloodbath over it.” It received the highest bid of any item (and there were great things there).


When you finish a book, there is a certain sadness, a letting go, a goodby to the characters you have lived with for months, sometimes years. Tomorrow, I will put my little painting in a box and send it away to a stranger who lives on the other side of the country. I am happy/sad. 

I wonder if all joy has an element of sadness. The joy of seeing a child grow up and go off into the world mixes with the sadness of losing something precious. The joy of accomplishing a goal mixes with the sadness of having accomplished it. The joy and sadness of creating . . . and finishing. 

Many wise people have said this better: It is not the destination that brings us happiness, but the journey. 

Speaking of which, I think I will finish this blog and go start another painting . . . .


T.K.Thorne is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her curiosity and imagination take her.  More at TKThorne.com.  
 
  

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Thankful!

Hope you had a great day with those you love, celebrating all the things you are thankful for. I am grateful for many things, family and friends in particular. But this year I am also thankful to have a new member of our family.

This is Nicki-Jones in February of this year (2021) when she arrived from a “kill lot” (next step, dog food in Mexico) in Louisiana to a quarantine pasture. She was lame and had a large wicked scar on the front of her left back leg and a patterned scarring on the back of the other leg that makes me think she got tangle in barbed wire at some point. The circular sticker on her withers was her lot #. She had a brand under her mane from the track, so I was able to confirm that she was a 16 year-old Standardbred. She was sweet, but had no idea what a treat was or even that eating out of a human hand was a possibility, which speaks to her former life as a work horse—pulling a sulky (a one-person cart) on a pacer race track and then with the Amish, where I assume she pulled a cart or wagon. I don’t know how long she had been at the kill lot, but they don’t keep them long because feeding her is an expense.

We took her in with another mare to give our gelding a companion and her a safe place to grow older and get loved on. Never thought I would be riding her! But she put on weight and gloss and healed up and definitely knows what a treat is now! Her coat even changed from brown to black this summer.

This is the first time I’ve been on her. Wasn’t sure what she would do, as I don’t know if she’s ever had anyone on her back, only pulled things. She caught on quickly, though, and I was really happy on this beautiful day to be in the saddle! It’s been a long time for the old lady on the top. Not sure Nicki-Jones felt the same way, but hoping we have some adventures ahead of us on the trails and lots of years to get to know each other and to be thankful for.

  T.K. is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her interest and imagination take her. 

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Peleliu

Last month, 77 years ago, American soldiers began a battle for an airstrip on a tiny island in the Pacific.

I had never heard of it, but I watched a documentary where the last surviving Marines told of the battle predicted to take four days that lasted over two months—the bullets; the mud; of forcing their foes from underground positions with flames; the small strip of hard-baked dirt won at such cost of blood; and a victory that was deemed, in the end, of negligible value.

It was a memory that haunted them and forged unbreakable bonds. One old man told of a simple offering that moved me to tears and to write a poem. I’d like to share it in honor of the Marines who risked and gave everything, and in tribute to the Japanese soldiers who did the same for their country . . . and in the hope that we will do war no more.

Peleliu, 1944

Thirst scrapes the back of the throat
tasting of gunpowder
and shattered dirt,
lips like parched earth
cracked open for an offering of blood.
Thirst cries out
from every cell.

We are walking Thirst
in a waking Hell,
traversing a field of Death.
Nothing here
of Home
or Cause—

Only the man to the right
and left.

One says,
“I have water.”

All turn
with longing
never felt for food
or glory
or even a woman.

With that declaration
Thirst intensifies
from burn to conflagration.

Hand atremble,
he offers his canteen
received by the next
with same and solemn fear,
all eyes watching.

One swallow,
one holy swallow
taken in sacred silence.

No one could stop him
if he took another
or drained it dry
but he takes only one,
enough to wet his mouth
but not slake aching cells.

With both hands, the communion canteen
passes to the next man,
all eyes follow.

One swallow
only one,
all around.

T.K. is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her interest and imagination take her.

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Following a Rabbit

I follow rabbit trails when I am writing because they often end up in the most unusual and interesting places.

Here’s a few tidbits I learned writing about an unnamed woman who was married to one of the most famous men on Earth:

*The oldest story known is from the Middle East (Babylon) and predates the Hebrew Bible. Written on stone, the Epic of Gilgamesh tells a tale with many parallels to the story of Noah and the flood.

A man named Utnapishtim survived a flood that destroy the earth after being warned to build a boat and gather his family and animals because the gods were unhappy with mankind—not because of sin, but because they were too LOUD! 🙂 Utnapishtim sent out a dove (the ancient symbol of the Mother Goddess) to try and find dry land.

*The earliest known deity was female!  The role of the feminine in the divine was entwined with early Judaism and keeps reappearing throughout history.

*The explorer Robert Ballard got money from the U.S. government to hunt for the wreckage of a secret Russian submarine in order to pursue his true desire to find the wreck of the Titanic. He found both. He also discovered the remains of an ancient flooded settlement about two miles into the Black Sea, preserved because of a lack of oxygen in the depths.

Writing Noah’s Wife was an adventure (with many rabbit trails) that took four years. I don’t regret a minute. The characters are still in my mind and come alive every time someone picks up the book. Despite its controversial challenges to traditional interpretations, it won “Book of the Year” for Historical Fiction and—more importantly to me—readers continue to let me know how much they loved it.

Available as paperback, ebook, and audible book. Click on image.

T.K. is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her interest and imagination take her.

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Dickens, Aliens, and Me

My first ambition was to be an astronaut. My dream was to make first contact with aliens who could take me on a private tour of the galaxy. I would check out the window every night to see if a UFO had landed in my back yard. (Surely, they could sense that I was waiting for them. . . ! ) For various reasons, it never did, and I didn’t get a chance to go looking for them, but that has now changed.

You might know that most of Charles Dickens’ novels were published in monthly or weekly installments. He pioneered the serial format of narrative fiction, which became the dominant mode during the Victorian period for novel publication and still exists in some magazine formats. 

Charles Dickens

The advent of print-on-demand technology in the 1960s turned the publishing industry on its head. It spawned the giant, Amazon, but it also wrested the ability to publish out of the hands of a few big publishing companies and into the hands of indie (independent) presses or even the authors themselves. This has had positive and negative side effects (a story for another day).

A couple of weeks ago, Amazon launched a new platform using serialization called “Kindle Vella.” The author can publish an episode (chapter) at a time and leave comments for the reader.  Readers can give a heads up for the chapters they like.  In that sense, technology is bringing the readers and authors closer together.

Also, it puts more power in the readers’ hands.  Instead of taking a chance on an entire book that you might end up hating or bored with, you can read at least three episodes for free. (As a special, Amazon is now giving you 200 free tokens, which means you can really read about 15 chapters free.) Then you purchase tokens (at a reasonable price; the total book is about what a new release e-book would be) to “spend” on chapter-episodes of books that you really like. You start at Amazon.com and can read it there or (after you read your first episodes and purchase tokens) it will also be available to download onto Apple devices (Kindle Reader app or Kindle device) or you can keep reading right on Amazon.com.

Back to meeting aliens and venturing into a new space . . . literally.

Motes (short for Mozart) is an extraordinary young girl born on Mars. When a boy is found dead in her dorm room, the private Martian school for gifted students expels her. Motes has nowhere to go besides the remote planet of Veld where her estranged father is studying mmerl, the native sentient species, some of whom are mysteriously disappearing.

Snowdancers by T. K. Thorne

This is a story close to my heart. I rewrote it during the Covid pandemic, and I’m really excited to be able to share it directly with readers this way!

You can check out SNOWDANCERS (the entire novel is uploaded) at “Kindle Vella” on Amazon.com at   https://www.amazon.com/kindle-vella/story/B096R3YF29

Hope you enjoy Mote’s amazing adventure!

T.K. is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her interest and imagination take her.  More at TKThorne.com

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The Paintbrush and the Pen

During the pandemic I edited several books and started two novels, both of which seem stuck somewhere near the beginning and are sitting around waiting for me.  I don’t know if it was the stress of the year or I just burned out.  

A friend introduced me to a form of art doodling called Zentangle, which is usually done on 3×3 inch pieces with a pen and pencil shading.  Looks like this:

I decided I wanted to color them and bought some colored pencils.

Then I stumbled across water color pencils. Who knew?  Got some of those and the color intensified.

So I ordered tube water colors and real water color paper and “got serious.” I started painting scenes out of my head. This one went to my new grandchild:

And then from photographs:

My nine-year-old nephew said he wanted a painting of outer space.  

“I like planets.” he said.

Which one is your favorite?”

With a wicked grin, “Uranus!”

He didn’t get Uranus (I think he just liked to say the word! ) 🙂 This is what he got:

My other nine-year-old nephew liked space but opted for a type of dinosaur I’d never heard of—a Spinosaurus, which has a huge head and jaws and likes water. I threw in an eclipse to cover the space interest.

Spinosaurus in solar eclipse with ginkgo tree

Connections between painting and writing have evolved along with subject matter. Since I had no idea what I was doing, I developed a silent mantra to keep me brave enough to try things—Don’t be afraid of the paint. Writing is like that. You can’t let fear of not having the right words stop you. There are ways to fix what you don’t like in both fields, but you have to put something down on paper first. (I think I am talking to myself here….)

Painting has expanded my “notice meter.” I look at the world differently, trying to take in how light plays in the tree canopy or on a field or a face, and I note how that affects my inner world.  Writers look for physical, emotional and mental nuances, motivations, and behaviors. But we also are called upon to describe the world in terms of our senses, and I suspect this “arting” thing is going to enhance my ability to describe the visual world.

One major lesson is that nothing exists without contrast. Light requires dark, even if it is in shades. An arc of character must, likewise, have contrast, a setup if you will.

A painting, like a story, takes on a life of its own. Not everything goes the way you “planned” it, and that is okay. Sometimes you have to let the colors and water do what they want to do and go from there.  The same for a story. A character you planned to grant a minor role may become a major player.  A plot can go off in a new direction. Your characters may say or do unexpected things.  These are part of the challenges and joys of writing and painting.

Science says creating art can help depression and PTSD, stimulate alpha (relaxing) brain waves, and reduce the stress hormone cortisol. They also say that learning new things creates new connections in your brain. I don’t pretend to be anything more than a beginning amateur at this, but I am loving this new passion. My words got stuck during the pandemic, and I don’t know when they will come back, but meanwhile I am determined not to be afraid of the paint and to see where it takes me.

T.K. is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her interest and imagination take her.  

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Roses are Stealthy

 

Writer, humanist,
          dog-mom, horse servant and cat-slave,
       Lover of solitude
          and the company of good friends,
        New places, new ideas
           and old wisdom.

Roses are following me around. 

In my first mystery/thriller/crime/urban fantasy, I named my police officer-witch, “Rose.” 

Names are a funny thing. When you give one to a character, it can instantly color them and lead to interesting places.  I don’t know why that name popped into my head at the critical moment of creation. I’ve tried to figure it out:

Was it a subconscious play on my last name, “Thorne”? 

Was I thinking of my grandmother whose name was “Rose”? 

Or was it just that it was fun, because as Rose herself says, 

“‘Rose’ is a difficult name. For one thing, it made me a target throughout childhood for “smells the same” taunts. For another, it sets up an assumption that fails to describe any part of my nature, conjuring an image of a tiny gray-haired woman. I am neither tiny—standing barefoot at 5’8”—nor gray-haired—dark curls minimally tamed per Birmingham police uniform regulations—and I’m more prickly thorns than soft petals.”

A one-armed man gave me the climbing rose in my yard (not that one-armed man, if you are of an age to have watched “The Fugitive”). It is in full bloom as we speak. That rose bush taught me valuable lessons (See “The Rose Wars.”)

Rose (the police-witch) got this for a cover:

All sorts of roses seem to show up in my life—a painting from a friend, a favorite scarf I never noticed had a black-and-white rose pattern, the two dozen long-stemmed roses my ex-husband (#2) sent me when he wanted to make up. That last one may be cheating since it was long ago. If my current husband sent me roses, I would definitely freak out (you have to read House of Rose to know why.)

Book two of the Magic City series is finally making its debut as House of Stone.

Just want to be clear, that is a red diamond in there—in case the universe wants to do that “Law of Attraction” thing, I’m good with it!

The first book (House of Rose) just won a first place award in Chanticleers International Awards! Yea! Here’s a  promo moment for the new novel:

Witches and warlocks abide in Birmingham, Alabama in three ancient Houses—Rose, Iron and Stone. They arrived over a century ago to draw their powers from the abundant ores beneath Red Mountain. Rose Brighton, a Birmingham police detective, is the last witch of House of Rose and possibly the most dangerous thing since the hydrogen bomb. A terrifying encounter with House of Iron has mentally crippled Becca, her best friend. While Becca struggles to find herself, Rose battles to control her own abilities and the supernatural attraction that pulls her to a mysterious, handsome warlock.

When magic kicks in at the scene of her first homicide, she learns that her partner—the mentor and friend she depends on—is lying to her, and she is on her own. Unraveling the murder entwines Rose in a web of greed and profit involving a promising new medicine. Someone is willing to kill to keep a cheap drug from the market. Not only do countless lives depend on Rose’s skills as a detective, the fate of a unique race of people facing extinction also rests on her shoulders . . . and some of them are determined to kill her.

Praise

“Thorne delivers a spellbinding thriller, an enthralling blend of real-world policing and other-world magic. It’s a wild ride of high stakes that pits the warm humanity of Rose and her friends against chilling powers of darkness in a battle that is both ages old and totally of today.”

—Barbara Kyle, author of The Traitor’s Daughter

“A deftly crafted and riveting read by an author with an impressively deft ability to hold the reader’s rapt attention with her original fantasy novel “House of Rose.” Readers new to her will look eagerly forward to the next title in her new Magic City Stories series. While very highly recommended for personal and community library Contemporary Fantasy Fiction collections, it should be noted that “House of Rose” is also available in a digital book format.”

Midwest Reviews

“Rookie cop Rose Brighton never imagined that a simple suspect chase into an alley would lead her into dark passages where she would question her definition of reality, her own identity, and whether she was pawn or prey. HOUSE OF ROSE is a gem.”

DP Lyle, award-winning author of the Jake Longly thriller series

“The life of Birmingham, Ala., rookie cop Rose Brighton, the narrator of this promising paranormal series launch from Thorne (Noah’s Wife), veers into the extraordinary one night. . . . Thorne, a retired captain in the Birmingham PD, grounds the fantasy with authentic procedural details and loving descriptions of the city and its lore. Readers will look forward to Rose’s further adventures.”

Publishers Weekly

“T.K. Thorne is an authentic, new voice in the world of fantasy and mystery. HOUSE OF ROSE blends the realistic details of police work with magic. The result is an explosive story that will keep you on the edge of your seat as Rose learns of her true heritage…and the dangerous powers that are her birthright. Pick up this story—you’ll thank yourself over and over again.”

Carolyn Haines, USA Today bestselling author of the Sarah Booth Delaney, Pluto’s Snitch, and Trouble the black cat detective mystery series.

“Although House of Rose is speculative fiction, a kind of fantasy, T.K. Thorne is so knowledgeable about Birmingham and law enforcement that it is also, truly, a police procedural and a thriller—something for everyone. House of Rose” is the first of a series which should be a hit.”

Don Nobles, reviewer for Alabama Public Radio

T.K. is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her interest and imagination take her.  More at TKThorne.com

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What an Old Horse Can Teach

This winter during the Covid pandemic, I did a crazy thing. I got two rescue horses. I was only looking for one mare to keep our lonesome gelding company. Still can’t believe I bought a horse from a photograph on Facebook! But a local rescue organization directed me to look there, and I saw a beautiful bay thoroughbred named Foxy who had raced for a couple of years and then was sold at auction. A place in Louisiana had bought her at the auction. Their aim was to sell her again, but such places, though they claim to be rescuing horses, are often not really focused on that. The real rescue organizations call them”kill pens.” As the term implies, if they can’t resell a horse, they send it to Mexico for dog food. It’s illegal to buy or sell a horse for food in the U. S., but not in Mexico. And there is a steady stream of unwanted horses from the U.S. for that purpose.

Foxy traveled from Louisiana to Alabama with several other horses who had been purchased the same way. One of her fellow travelers from the kill pen was an older black Standardbred mare named Nickie Jones. Originally raced at a track (pulling a two-wheeled one-seater called a “sulky”) and then sold to the Amish who had her pull a carriage or wagon. The Amish had sold her to the same Louisiana kill pen. Had someone not bought her in the same way I had, Nickie’s next stop also would have been Mexico.

She turned out to be lame and had a terrible scar on her left back leg (something not disclosed when her would-be rescuer bought her. Nickie Jones was no longer wanted by the person who had purchased her. The rescue organization couldn’t keep her, because there were stallions on their property, and mares cause a lot of stir. (No comments from the peanut gallery, please.)

So, to make a long story short, I took in Nickie Jones too. Both horses were not in great shape, but Nickie was really undernourished. 

Nickie Jones arrives in Alabama February 2021

Whatever she had gotten into (barbed wire?) to leave an awful scar, seemed to be causing her pain, but when my vet examined her, he said t was her other leg, the hock (back “elbow”) that was swollen and the reason she was lame. I gave her Bute, which is horse aspirin, as a powder mixed in her feed for about ten days, and she was fine. Putting some weight on her took longer. A special senior feed and lots of hay. She gobbles it down and is the first one to the three piles of hay we lay out for them. The bony top of her hip is starting to round.

Horses are social creatures, and they adhere to a hierarchy each group works out. Nickie Jones is at the bottom of line. Big boss man in this herd-of-three is Apollo, our paint (brown and white) quarter horse. He is ordinarily congenial, but food aggressive. When food is present, he turns into a bully. We quickly learned we needed to put him in the round pen to eat until the other two are finished or he will run them off from their buckets and help himself to their grain.

The routine is to give all three grain in their individual buckets. While they eat, we put out the hay in three piles in a rough line against the barn wall. Usually Nickie Jones finishes first and heads for the hay. Then Foxy joins her. Then we let Apollo out of the pen. When released, he exits the pen with his ears flattened back, charging the girls. They scatter. So, he gets first choice of the three piles of hay to munch. Sometimes he will choose the hay on the far end, sometimes the other end. He never chooses the center. Foxy uses her position as horse #2 to claim the end farthest away from Apollo, putting Nickie Jones between her and the grumbly gelding.

Smart girl.

Nickie Jones has disadvantages. We don’t know if she was born into them or if personality, age, or injury created them. There is not much she can do about that. But even though she has the least social status and control, knowing she will end up in the middle of the hay line, she uses the moments when she is first to the hay—before Foxy finishes her grain and Apollo is released—to snatch at a pile, and she never eats from the middle pile, which is where she will end up. 

Foxy is the second to finish her grain and go to the hay. If Foxy runs Nickie Jones off from an end pile, Nickie goes to the other end, getting a few snatches of that pile of hay before Apollo comes out and everyone reshuffles and ends up in their final hay-eating positions. Nickie Jones always has an untouched pile of hay in the center to munch.

There’s smart and there’s smart.

Hay-munching order left to right: Foxy, Nickie Jones, Apollo

T.K. is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her interest and imagination take her.  More at TKThorne.com

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