Riding Camp

When I was a kid, I had a real thing about horses. I wanted one, but growing up on an apple farm meant we didn’t have a barn or pasture to keep one (or two). My solution was to suggest 4-H – using a horse from a nearby farm. But that meant having to drive me so I could care for the animal etc, so it was a non-starter. I had a few friends who had horses, and now and again I’d get to go to their house and go for a ride. And a handful of times I went to a local riding stable and did trail rides. I read horse books. I did “research reports” on my summer holidays. I was horse crazy.

I have a daughter who is animal crazy, so when we were looking at a special summer activity, we looked at things to do with animals. Unfortunately, the local vets and shelters require volunteers to be eighteen for liability reasons so that was out. And then I realized that there is a stable nearby who does camps all summer long.

When I asked her about it, she was over the moon. Not just to ride horses but to care for the horses. Feeding and brushing and whatever else they get to do. As the time gets closer, she’s getting more excited.

Is it sad that I almost wish I could go with her?


A new meaning to Stampede Royalty!

Yeeehaw! It’s Stampede week once again and Calgary is rockin’ to great food, great music, and great rodeo!

Stampede Royalty usually refers to the Stampede Princesses, but this year the celebration is a little extra special. Because a new Princess is in town with her new husband: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge! A lofty title for the couple the world knows best as “Wills and Kate”.  And the gorgeous pair helped kick off the Stampede on Friday!

Upon their arrival in “Cowtown”, they were presented with the equivalent of the keys to the city: the White Hat. Custom made thanks to measurements provided by the palace, the Smithbilts were given to the couple filled with the good wishes of the people of Calgary. They didn’t put them on right away, but later wore them during their Stampede appearances.

I know Catherine gets the majority of the interest as Princess, but I have to say Wills is looking AWFULLY good in his plaid shirt with rolled up sleeves, jeans, and hat. What I love about Will is that he looks great in a suit as a Prince – but just as much at home in his flight suit (man in uniform! Gah!) and now – in cowboy gear (double gah!).





And look – here they are with our Prime Minister (also a Calgarian!) watching my favourite Stampede event – Mutton Busting! There’s something so gosh-darned cute about kids on sheep!




But the couple actually arrived in Calgary a bit earlier, taking a helicopter west for a secret night away in a remote cabin in the backcountry around Lake Louise. Reports say that a special “loo” was built in the rustic accommodations just for the occasion. A friend of mine took her kids to the airport to catch a glimpse, and her son (same age as my youngest!) snapped a photo of the couple chatting with the helicopter pilots on the tarmac.

Stampede is always special, but this week it’s a little extra special for that touch of royalty.

Spaghetti Westerns…in Canada?

I write contemporary westerns for Harlequin Romance, but I think they always have a bit of a Canadian twist. It’s in our attitude, they way we view things, the things we say.  There are similarities to our neighbours to the south, but I love to celebrate the differences, too. And I love love love that Paul Gross took the bull by the horns and made the movie GUNLESS.

Paul Gross is the guy who was a Mountie in Due South and was well-known for the line, “Thank you kindly.” In Gunless he shows up north of the border in Barclay’s Bush as an outlaw, The Montana Kid, but he can’t find a single person to duel. If an outlaw can’t be an outlaw, what on earth is he supposed to do with himself, anyway?

The scenes are ripe with Canadian dry wit and practicality.  When the villain, played by Callum Keith Rennie, has the heroine, Jane in his sights, he says she’s not worth the bullet. “She most certainly is worth a bullet,” The Montana Kid argues, and an outraged Jane says, “HEY!”  When he asks where he’s ended up, a little Chinese girl states, “The Dominion of Canada.” “Oh,” he grumbles in his gravelly voice. “Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.”

Dustin Milligan plays a shiny-faced Mountie at the local outpost, who happens to be sweet on Jane. Then there’s Graham Greene who plays the token Indian absolutely deadpan: “You gotta learn to tie up your horse, chief.”

But it’s not all one liners and Canadian politeness. There *is* a bounty hunter on his trail, and there is, of course, a shoot out at the end. And romance. Don’t forget romance! After all, a good outlaw needs to be reformed – and get the girl!



Deadwood and Forgiving

Deadwood was on several years ago and I didn’t watch, but we discovered Season 1 because we watch a lot of On Demand series and, well, I put the first epi on just to see Tim Olyphant. Yes, I’m that shallow. I became a huge Olyphant fan from watching Justified.

By the way, Justified isn’t family viewing, but Deadwood has it beat by a country mile on the curse per minutes ratio. If you don’t like profanity, stay far, far away. I don’t mind it and even so it is pretty over the top. It isn’t sprinkled with it, it’s SATURATED.

BUT I love it just the same. It has complex characters who aren’t completely good and aren’t completely bad either. It is very wild west, dirty, corrupt, resilient, generous…

Part of the reason why I am so taken with it is because I began watching with a built-in…well, knowledge doesn’t sound quite right but maybe “impression” fits because of a very different fictional accounting of the town – the novel FORGIVING by LaVyrle Spencer.

I can’t imagine LaVyrle would have soaked her prose in f-bombs, but there are things she had in common with the series.

1) Painting a picture of a rough, lawless town where the only women were the whores in the brothels.

2) One man who stands out as the good guy, yum yum! (And yes, I mean Tim as Seth Bullock)

3) A spunky, well-spoken, classy heroine. While Deadwood is populated with several characters and storylines, Alma Garrett (Molly Parker) truly stands out.

4) The addition of the story of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. I love this part. Jane was such a rough character with such a big heart.

5) The addition of a small pox outbreak and pestilence tents

6) A good, upright man in love with a prostitute.

If you haven’t read Forgiving, see if you can find a copy. It’s a wonderful read. Especially a particular scene at midnight on Christmas Eve. Deadwood’s coarseness might not be for everyone, but Forgiving is a beautiful story that will still manage to give you the flavour of this gold rush town.


And if you can’t find Forgiving, my newest release, A Family For The Rugged Rancher, is out in the UK this month. You can find out more on my website: http://www.donnaalward.com .

A Different Kind of Horse for a Different Kind of Cowboy

When I started writing HONEYMOON WITH THE RANCHER, I figured that a special kind of cowboy – an Argentine Gaucho – rode a special kind of horse. Turns out I was right, and today I’m going to introduce you to the Criollo.

This native horse of Argentina descends from the horses of the Iberian conquest. When parties went to explore and conquer South America, horses were shipped to the river Plate from Iberia, and as in all the Spanish and Portuguese conquests, they brought the toughest, hardiest horses they could. Conditions were tough on such voyages with insufficient food and water. Many horses died or were unable to regain health. Whether it was the primitive characteristics that cropped out under the wild conditions in the New World, or whether some of the shipments were of rather primitive Iberian horses in the first place, fact is that until fairly recently, the Argentine Criollo and the Criollo in general, bore a considerable resemblance to the ancient Sorraia wild horse of Portugal and Spain (zebro, or encebro).

During long campaigns with Indians, many horses escaped or were turned loose. Also after destruction of Buenos Aires by Indians, many horses were driven into the wild. Natural selection resulted in physical hardiness and the survivors became the progenitors of the Argentine Criollo breed.

The Criollo horse is still the choice of the South American cowboys, the best-known of which is Argentina’s gaucho. On cattle drives or gathers, the Criollos are usually ridden for a week, then returned to pasture and substituted by new ones. All along, the native grass is their only feed. Horses on the ranches are not necessarily registered Criollos, in fact, they seldomly are. The registered Criollo horse has become too valuable to be exposed to the dangers and hardships of many ranches, but those horses used for ranch work are still criollos in the original sense of the word. It is a bit confusing that the breed carries the name of a horse that, traditionally, was not a breed, but a wild or semi-wild horse without a pedigree. Now the pedigreed horses carry that same name: Criollo. In that respect, too, the situation is similar to that of the mustangs of North America, where mustang also described a wild-living horse without a pedigree, but registries exist that use the term to describe their registered animals.

Just like from the work of the North American cowboy, several events resp. contests have derived from the South American herdsmen’s work, some are similar to those in North America, some are quite unique. The Criollo horse excels in all of them.

Criollos of Central and South America were the basis for several specialized breeds, such as the different Paso breeds, or the Mangalargas of Brazil. If you’ve never seen a Paso in motion before, it’s a real treat. I never got to ride one but my sister did, and she said it was like gliding on a magic carpet.

The Criollo horse became only really known beyond its homeland through the famous ride by Swiss Aim Tschiffely with two Criollos from Buenos Aires to New York City. The two horses, Mancha and Gato, were 15 and 16 years of age, respectively, when he set out. He was received by the U.S. president in Washington when he arrived there three years later, after approx. 13,500 miles that took him, among other hardships, over the over 18,000 feet high Condor Pass in Bolivia. That both, Mancha and Gato, afterwards lived to be over 40 years of age is further testimony to the extraordinary toughness and vitality of the Criollo horse.
In some ways, I learned that the Criollo is practically a symbol for the strength and resilience of the Argentine people.

HONEYMOON WITH THE RANCHER is out now from Harlequin Romance.

*info provided by http://www.horseshowcentral.com/horse_breeds/criollo_horse/421/1

Green Ranching

I’m always intrigued by new ways of using technology to improve farming, and with the latest buzz being about sustainability and environmental responsibility, I did a little research into some new trends. What I found was pretty interesting, and I’m still learning and trying to understand some of it (a scientist I am not).  I’m pretty intrigued by two ideas and interestingly enough they are on different ends of the spectrum – one is taking ranching into the future, and the other is returning to grassroots ideas.

So cool idea #1 – Have you ever heard the saying “Making honey out of dog #$*&”? Now you can make electricity from refuse – specifically manure. Manure makes gas, which is then converted into electricity. Methane never smelled so good. If you take a look at this ranch’s site, you’ll see how they use the manure from their cows to create enough electricity to completely power their own operation – and then some.  There’s been a lot of development in this area over the last few years; I hope other Canadian operations will soon follow suit! 

As Spring Creek puts it: When you work with a live inventory that keeps eating and growing everyday, challenges are a fact of life; they also present a heap of opportunity.  Case in point, cattle produce manure; crop production results in organic waste…It simply makes sense to renew the resources that sustain our family and community – today and well into the future.

I’m guessing this is a pretty expensive venture to set up, and yes there are manufacturing considerations for fuel cells etc. but one would hope there would also be grants available to assist. What a renewable resource! Everybody poops! Holy Cow!

The other cool idea is one I came across researching some areas in Southern Alberta. I found one particular operation that’s kickin’ it old skool when it  comes to methods. The OH Ranch takes conservation very seriously – through a Heritage Rangeland Designation and Conservation Easements. What does that mean? I’m going to snag the explanation from the OH Ranch Site:

For the OH Ranch, the public grazing land portions of the Longview and Pekisko sections of the ranch are now designated as heritage rangeland. The heritage rangeland designation helps protect about 10,200 acres (41.28 square kilometers) of public land that has consistently been ranched under grazing leases by the OH Ranch. The designation helps preserve a way of life through the continuation of traditional ranching practices that have stewarded and managed sensitive native prairies in southern Alberta for generations.

Conservation easements are voluntary agreements between a private landowner and a qualified land trust which limits the amount and type of development that can occur on a property. Easements are negotiated to preserve the natural character of the land, and its ecological integrity, scenic values and/or scientific and educational potential. The OH Ranch is working with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Southern Alberta Land Trust Society on conservation easements for their Longview and Pekisko ranch lands, and with Ducks Unlimited on easements for he Dorothy and Bassano ranch lands. The easements will be registered against the land title, ensuring that current and future owners manage he land according to terms of the easements.

The other term you’ll see here is “traditional ranching practices”. Since its inception in 1883, the OH Ranch has always operated using traditional methods. Today, cowboys continue to ride the range, moving cattle and doctoring sick animals in the open field by roping from horseback. While the ranch owns trucks and other equipment, horses are still the primary mode of transportation on the ranch and continue to be used for such tasks as packing fencing supplies, minerals and salt and protein blocks. The OH Ranch is one of the few large cattle outfits in North America which continues to be operated utilizing historic methods.

It’s really interesting to see ranchers come up with new ways of preserving the environment and staying sustainable in an economic climate that is anything but farmer-friendly.

Writers and Ranchers

You know how sometimes you realize something and wonder why you never really saw it before? That happened to me last week. I was doing a little research for my new book, piecing together my hero’s past, and I had just finished a week of admin. A whole week. And that’s when it hit me. I have something in common with the ranchers I write about – more than the love of the outdoors and wide-open skies.

Is that a skeptical brow I see arched in my direction? I know. Our professions couldn’t be more different, right? I sit on my butt in front of a computer all day. A rancher spends most of his day outside, in the fields and barns. I make things up, farmers are faced with reality every moment and deal with the here and now.  Farmers are physically tough; I have a real ongoing issue with Writer’s Butt, and it ain’t pretty.

But we have a lot in common too. We’re in the business of producing goods, and if we don’t pay close attention to quality, our market dries up and we don’t get paid. And guess what. There’s not a writer or farmer I know who punches a clock. We do what has to get done when it has to get done.

More than that, though, is the change to our professions brought on by technology. Farmers aren’t just farmers and writers aren’t just writers. We are business people. There is more to being an author than writing the book. There’s more to being a farmer than milking the cow or harvesting the wheat.

Farmers need to be up to speed with developments – water management, land management, economics, livestock management, genetic developments, and dear Lord yes, finances.  I don’t think a lot of people out there realize what goes into the jug of milk they buy, the tray of steak or the bag of apples they pick up at the grocery store. 

Writers need to know the market, they need to promote themselves and keep pace with developments in the industry. The days are gone where you could write a book, send it off to your publisher and trust the rest.  I spend a good portion of my time reading up on the changes in the industry, figuring out where to spend my promotional dollars, doing paperwork, developing relationships with readers, and yes, writing new books. Because writing is my business.

It was really cool to make the parallel, and it happened when I was looking at some of the programs offered at Olds College in Alberta. The term “simple farmer” gets my goat. There is nothing simple about farming and the men and women who do it – and let’s face it, not many farmers are getting rich at it – are savvy and dedicated.

Just like a writer should be.

And just another reason why I love writing modern westerns.

You can check out my latest “innovative” cowboy in Honeymoon with the Rancher, featuring an Argentine Gaucho who uses his smarts to keep the family estancia going as a guest ranch. It’s out in the UK this month and will be in the US and Canada  in May.  And you can always catch up with my at my site, www.donnaalward.com !

Dessert Week with the Fillies – Day One

Wrangler Wreath Cookies

Mary Connealy

1/3 C. butter

 10 ounces marshmallows

Microwave 1 ½ minutes. Stir. Microwave again 1 ½ minutes. Continue until smooth. Add:

1 t. green food coloring


6 C. cornflakes (crushed)

Wet hands work as well as buttered hands to prevent sticking. Roll into balls. Poke thumb through center and flatten to form a wreath. Decorate with red hots.

 Gumdrop Cake

Donna Alward

1/2 cup Margarine

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

2 cups flour

1 cup milk

1 cup gum drops (no black) chopped, or baking gums

Cream margarine and sugar, beat in eggs 1 at a time. Add vanilla. Mix together flour, salt, and baking powder. Add to the mixture, alternating with the milk until smooth.

Dust gumdrops with flour (to keep them from sticking together). Add to batter. Grease and flour a funnel or bundt pan. Bake at 350 until toothpick comes out clean. Wrap in foil and let ripen for 1 week (if you can stand to wait that long!).

It’s lovely weather….

For a sleighride, don’t you think?

I haven’t been on a sleigh ride in years, but I have fond memories, especially of when I was a kid growing up in a small farming community.  I belonged to groups like 4-H and we often had outings that included skating parties, hot cocoa, caroling, and yes, sleigh rides.

Of course you would hope for snow so you could actually go on a sleigh ride and not a wagon ride. There is something magical about the white snow and moonlight and the squeak of the runners against the snow. The sound of the horses’s hooves and the plume of the frosty air out their noses and of course the sound of bells!  But if there was no snow, we made do with wagons and bales of hay just the same. After all, you don’t need snow to sing carols. Or drink hot chocolate. Or eat Maudie Griffith’s fudge.

I got thinking about different books and movies that I love that have sleighrides in them.  How about the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and burrowing under buffalo robes to keep warm?  Or one of my favourites – YEARS by LaVyrle Spencer. Teddy and Linnea were lovely characters and the day he picked her up from the train after Christmas break and they stopped and saw the wild horses…. happy sigh….

Movies, too. Like The Santa Clause 2 when he uses some magic to create a snowfall around the sleigh as they make their way to the Christmas party. Or at the end of White Christmas when it begins snowing and they roll back the barn doors and a horse and sleigh go jogging past!

Alas there are no sleigh rides in my immediate future, maybe you can recommend some other holiday books and movies I may have missed?

And as this is my last post of 2010 – MERRY CHRISTMAS and a big thank you to the other fillies for welcoming me to the family this year. 🙂

Oh, Those Pesky Critters!

One thing I LOVE about living where we do is that there are animals. I’ll admit it – I am so not a city girl. When we first moved here, the pheasants charmed the socks off of yours truly. In the winter, we like walking to the school bus and seeing the different footprints in the snow. We like watching the deer in the woods and all the birds…

But critters can be pesky! Like when the raccoons get into the garbage. Or woodpeckers make you rise and shine at 5 a.m. on a Sunday. Or when the deer…and hang on, I might weep a bit…demolish your beautiful flower garden or carefully tended apple trees!

I grew up on an apple farm and my dad used to spray Hinder around the orchard in the winter. The smaller trees had plastic “mouseguards” to protect their trunks. The family dog looked after groundhogs. And the coyotes? Well, we just left them alone. So…here are a few “Natural” ways to enjoy wildlife and keep away the pesky critter part!

Deer: we’ve tried a few things, but the best we’ve found is moth balls along with bone and blood meal in old pieces of pantyhose. We hang them from every other apple tree and also put one in the spruce that stands in the middle of my perennial bed and that seems to do the trick. At least they stayed away from my lilac, lily and phlox blooms this past summer!

Slugs: Gross, yuck, ick. Did I mention the time one clung to someone’s shoe and came in the house and I stepped on it on the stairs in the dark? (GROSS!) I detest slugs. And they adore my hostas. The kids have great fun rinsing egg shells and then crushing them up to sprinkle around the hostas. I’ve heard coffee grounds work but we’ve never found them as effective as egg shells.

Mice: We had trouble one year and it seemed to be cured by finding the source. But we also have a tent trailer and so our MO for keeping them out of there in the winter is Irish Spring soap. We grate it and put the shavings in little cups all over the trailer and knock on wood- in 4 years we’ve never had a problem.

Woodpeckers: OMG, nesting season and the Northern Flickers thinking our eavestrough was a crucial warning system nearly drove me around the bend. We tried loud noises. We tried stuff on the end of the eaves. In the end…the only thing that had any sort of success was shiny wrapping paper – it was foil type with a swirly patter in silver and gold and we put it up in the windows nearest the corner.

Raccoons: I saw a really funny thing on tv the other day about using coyote urine and truthfully – I’d love to hear if someone has had success with this. The only thing we do? We keep our compost bin and garbage cans away from the house and lids securely on. We bungee the lids on, actually, so they can’t take them off – because they’re sneaky little devils!

What critters do you have around you that are pests? And how do you keep them at a pleasant distance?

On a happier note – I have a new book out this month. BREATHE is available from Samhain Publishing and it is blissfully pest free! A gorgeous winery setting is only topped by a sexy hero IMO…it was one of my favorite books to write. I have to admit this might be my favorite covers so far too!