by Kassandra Lamb ~ It’s not an accident that the protagonist of my cozy mystery series ends up with a horse. (Or that the daughter of the previous series’ protagonist has a pony.) You all might not know this, but I’m a lifelong horse lover.
I fell in love with horses when I read Black Beauty as a kid. But I was thirteen before I had a chance to ride anything other than a pony walking in circles at the county fair. That year, we moved to the rural part of Baltimore County, Maryland, and I was able to buy my first pony from a neighbor.
I was ecstatic when my grandmother gave me the money to buy him and my parents agreed to pay for the boarding.
His name, Fiddlesticks, was quite appropriate.
He was one ornery piece of horse flesh, but I didn’t know that at the time I bought him.
For one thing, he was an escape artist. I boarded him at a farm for a while that used three-strand wire fencing. Somehow, Fiddle was getting out and then crossing a major road to another horse farm, where he broke into the feed room and gorged on sweet feed.
We figured adding another strand of wire would do the trick, but he still got out. My brother spied on him one day and saw how he did it. He very carefully placed a hoof on the lowest wire to pull it down to the ground; then he ducked his head under the wire above it and shoved it up with his neck and wiggled between them.
Eventually, the owner of the farm across the major road said that I could board him there. Her farm had four-board wood fences. He never escaped again.
But he took his revenge by dumping me more than once. His favorite trick was to wait until we were cantering across a field and then stop dead. I would go flying over his head.
But I was so lovestruck, I kept on riding and loving him. My mother teased me that he was smarter than I was. I was pretty sure that this wasn’t true, since I was a good student in school. But still, every time I went flying over his head, I had to wonder if she was right.
(Fiddlesticks shows up in my Kate Huntington Mysteries as the pony of Kate’s little girl. I made that fictional Fiddle more cooperative.)
I eventually grew too tall for a pony, and we sold Fiddle to another neighbor. My next horse was a quarter horse named Princess.
She hadn’t been very well trained. She would try to buck me off at least once per trail ride. But her gaits were very smooth; it felt like I was on a rocking horse. I would laugh at her, and eventually she gave up and was better behaved after that.
At seventeen, boy-crazy pushed aside horse-crazy, as happens with a lot of female teens. Princess was sold to a younger, still horse-crazy girl.
My golden beauty!
Fast-forward 13 years and I’m about to finish graduate school and start a new career as a mental health counselor. And my love of horses has long since resurfaced. So I decided to give myself a horse as a graduation present.
A fellow lifelong horse lover took me to meet a breeder who had a mare for sale.
I do not believe in love at first sight between humans, but human and horse…yeah! I saw this palomino’s head hanging over the fence, and I was smitten.
Ardilla was a Paso Fino, a smoothly-gaited breed from Central and South America. Riding her was even smoother than a rocking horse!
I boarded her at my friend’s farm for a while, but eventually my husband and I bought a five-acre property with a barn. And this lifelong horse lover was in heaven!
Ardilla was a “push-button horse.” As in, she does exactly what you want, with almost no effort on your part. I would think Run, and she would move out. I would think, Whoa, and she would slow to a walk again.
It really wasn’t as magical as it sounds. I was shifting in the saddle, tightening the reins ever so subtly, but that’s all it took to get her to respond.
The real-life Niña
Ardilla was 16 when I bought her, but Paso Finos live longer than other horse breeds. Finally at 25, she was slowing down, showing her age.
I bought another, younger Paso Fino, a sweet black mare named Niña (pronounced Neen-ya, means little girl). I alternated riding the two mares for a few more years.
But finally at 28, I retired my beautiful palomino. She got to graze undisturbed for the next three years.
I remained a lifelong horse lover, but somehow riding was never quite the same, after my beloved Ardilla’s retirement.
The horse in my Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy series is also named Niña, and her personality is a combination of her real-life namesake and her palomino predecessor.
A big move
In 2004, we retired from our jobs in the Baltimore area and sold the horse farm, to move to Florida. I was ready to give up riding in exchange for palm trees, but still I cried the day we finally drove away from that property.
And to this day, whether I have a real-life horse of my own or not, I am a lifelong horse lover. So much so, that ponies and horses keep popping up in my stories.
Niña discovers the body!
Sadly, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy series is coming to an end, with the release today of Auld Lang Mayfair, the last story in the series. So I decided to give Niña a bigger than usual role. She actually discovers the body in this one. (See excerpt below.)
This is the second time I’ve ended a series and had to let go of beloved characters…but now, this lifelong horse lover has to let go of a beloved fictional horse as well. It’s going to be hard.
Here’s the novella (and the promised excerpt after the blurb).
Auld Lang Mayfair, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, #13
Should auld acquaintance be forgot…
The last year has been eventful for Marcia and husband Will. They’ve successfully launched their private investigation agency and completed their family with an adorable but creatively energetic baby girl. Now, they’re about to ring in the New Year with friends and neighbors, but there’s something more than champagne bubbling in Mayfair, Florida.
The octogenarian matriarch of the town is always looking for ways to boost the community’s economy. Her latest scheme is the addition of a row of shops along Main Street. But a few of her new tenants have something more nefarious in mind than simply selling their wares.
When old hostilities set off New Year’s fireworks, a shopkeeper ends up dead, and two friends of Marcia’s are prime suspects. Determined to clear them, Marcia and Will—with Buddy’s help, of course—set out to uncover the real Grim Reaper.
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Excerpt from Auld Lang Mayfair:
Forty-five minutes later, we’d finished a nice romp around the back fields, Buddy loping alongside. I pointed Niña back toward Main Street. I’d cool her down while checking out what progress had been made with the new shops during the last few days, while I’d been preoccupied with family.
Most had signs up now. Besides the bakery, there were a clothing boutique, a shoe store, a gift shop, a kitchen and bath store, a wine shop, and a bookstore—I would definitely be checking that one out when it opened. And on the very end was a bike rental place.
What a great idea! Tourists could bike around town, or even to the lake a few miles away.
I shivered a little, recalling some not-so-pleasant events at that lake, near Valentine’s Day two years ago.
Curious, I guided Niña around to the back of the buildings. Things weren’t quite as neat there, with several piles of construction debris scattered about. But each back door now had a small stoop made of seasoned lumber, with one step up to it. Just high enough to keep water from getting in under the doors during an intense rainstorm, which we had plenty of in Florida.
Wary of nails, I steered Niña in a wide berth around the piles of debris, keeping a sharp eye on the ground.
Suddenly she snorted and stopped abruptly, pitching me forward against her neck. Then she veered to the left, farther away from the nearest pile of scrap wood. I was almost unseated.
“Whoa, girl.” I tightened the reins, something I rarely have to do. “Take it easy.” I examined the ground around us, trying to figure out what had upset her.
Niña is what horse people call a push-button horse. Very well-mannered, she does exactly what I tell her to do. So something had to have upset her, but I couldn’t figure out what.
I loosened the reins again, nudged her with my knees. She refused to move.
The breeze picked up some, and a faint coppery odor reached my nose, mixed with something a bit more pungent.
Buddy started toward the smell.
“Come back here, boy!”
That’s what had Niña spooked. An animal had died in or near that pile, or maybe someone had thrown garbage amongst the construction debris.
I dismounted and pulled the reins over the mare’s head to lead her away. But when I glanced back at the pile, I froze.
Something was sticking out of it that shouldn’t be there. A man’s leather work glove…and it wasn’t flat.
My stomach did a somersault. I was pretty sure there was a hand inside that glove.
Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida, and the C.o.P. on the Scene police procedurals, set in northern Florida. She also writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.
Misterio press produces an array of quality crime fiction. We post here twice a month, usually on Tuesdays, to alert you to new releases, to entertain, and to inform.
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