Blue Suitcase
Ready for anything.

So yesterday was…interesting.

I discovered that

1) the Ohio River had flooded Louisville and Cincinnati and all points in between this past week, which it so rarely does and

2) getting on the plane from Houston to DC for the Pony Club horse management judge training that I rearranged whole chunks of my life to get to was a really bad idea.

My first clue that All Was Not Well was when my flight out of Houston was delayed two hours by weather. The Delta app oh-so-helpfully had a pop-up button that allowed me to rebook myself on a connecting flight out of Atlanta with plenty of time to spare, and I settled in to get a huge amount of work done. (Pats self on back!)

Then they delayed my flight again. No pop up button appeared and there were no later flights available to DC from Atlanta. I crossed my fingers that the gates would be close together.

Then they made me check my carry-on bag. While I might could sprint from plane to plane, the baggage handlers have a ton of other bags to handle, so I quickly repacked my carry on, and wore or carried all the things I had to have for my seminar. So, instead of my nice walking shoes, I then had on paddock boots, a barn coat, and a shoulder bag with about 20 pounds of horse management junk in it. My carry-on/checked bag was almost empty. I took a photo of it, since it had been awhile since I had a record of what this bag looked like, and got on the plane to Atlanta. Texted my husband a funny update about it all. Congratulated myself on how well I’d thought all that through.

Smooth flight. We landed, taxied….and stopped about a hundred feet from the gate. And sat there for 30 minutes while I watched my Delta app for signs that the connecting flight (Only two gates down the terminal!!) was also delayed. Boarding, it kept saying, right up til after I got to the gate to see the jetway door still open — but they had “released” my seat because I wasn’t there, and they put standby folks on the plane instead of me. Texted my husband in frustration. Thank goodness someone listened to me!

Delta baggage handler are stellar because they managed to “expedite” my bag from the Houston plane to the DC-bound plane, so I got to wave goodbye to my almost empty bag and lug my horse stuff down to the long line of folks trying to find a seat out of Atlanta. Two hours later I had learned there were no flights to the northeast part of the country because of a storm but they could get me on an evening flight to Houston Hobby. (My car was parked at Intercontinental on the north side of Houston,but hey, NOT Atlanta.) Texted new flight info back to Houston to husband.

That thing I usually do before packing? Checking the regional weather before I go. Didn’t do. At least I had a way out of Atlanta. Fretted a bit about this expensive round trip ticket to mayhem, but decided to drown my sorrows in more work. (Aren’t I a good little writer!)

Before I got on the plane to Houston three hours later, I called and left a message on the husband’s cell because I hadn’t gotten any return texts. “See you at Hobby at 8?” and watched Justice League all the way back home. (So the day was not all bad. Haven’t sat still long enough to watch a movie in quite awhile.)

Turned my phone on to find a text from my husband in response to my phone call that he’d see me at Hobby on Sunday and thanks for the update!! He had not gotten any of my texts, but assumed the voice mail from me was about my original return date. He too was unaware of the storm on the east coast.

The hour it took for Paul to get to Hobby gave me enough time to discover that 1) Delta employees are really kind. They would bring my bag to my house when it got back 24 hours from when I got back so that I would not have to go to both Houston airports today to collect my car (Intercontinental) and my bag (Hobby). and 2) Check my e-mail to discover that Delta had credited me the entire price of the ticket.

And I now have two entire days I didn’t have before, so I’m headed out to do spring cleaning of the barn and mow the pastures, and brush the horses.

Weather here? Delightful.

Travelogue out.

Julie the traveling fool

Five Long Years

Image of clock face

It took me a long five years to write BURNED, the Pony Club-based middle grade equestrian mystery now available from and (Be sure to use the SMILE program and designate Pony Club as the recipient!) Even during the first draft of the book, I knew that capturing Sophie’s voice was going to take a lot of effort.

I have been a twelve-year-old girl, but that was a long time ago. Fortunately, there are a lot of Pony Club members I could use as example of how that age thinks and speaks. Many people think that writing a children’s book is easier than writing for adults. I’ve done both. I can say definitively that writing a child’s point of view is much harder to capture once you’ve gotten to full adulthood. It was discouraging, to write that first draft and find that I had to toss the entire thing. Despite my best effort at the time, Sophie sounded too old for the audience, and not at all like someone I would have liked as a friend. Then there was the story itself.

The original problem I set for Sophie was one that I thought all horse kids would relate to: the possibility of losing her horse, Cricket. She was supposed to figure out how to raise the money for her partial lease, something I know in my heart a Pony Club kid could do. (For one thing, Pony Club families support one another, and I suspect her Club or Center would help her through that financial spot in her life.) But when I pitched that story to editors, many of them said they didn’t believe a 12 year old could raise that kind of cash. Little did they know the support of the horse community, or the resourcefulness of a horse-crazy young woman.

After a Big House editor told me that the problem needed to be world-changing, I faced a choice: toss yet another draft of the book and quit, or try a third time.

Sketch of two children flanking a horse bursting out of a burning barn/

I went home and burned down the barn. Not literally of course. I’m rather attached to my barn. But one of the barns in the book caught fire. As much as it hurts me to admit it, that pesky editor was right. It made my pulse race to write that scene. Hard work to write the book from the beginning again, but worth it. BURNED is a much more exciting read with that kind of danger added.

Once I made that change in the plot, instead of raising money being the sole problem, Sophie must also grapple with the question of adults behaving badly. When her mother is accused of wrongdoing, the very real threat to Sophie’s relationship with Cricket becomes secondary to her anxiety about her mom. Fortunately, Sophie has great friends, and the full support of her Uncle Charlie, and her father, even though he lives all the way across the country from Sophie’s home in Maryland.

Sophie is smart, and strong, both outside and in, just like the Pony Club members I work with as a Chief Horse Management Judge. Horsemanship teaches all kinds of mad skills, and I gave Sophie many of the ones I see most: ability to put together facts and come out with a logical answer, resourcefulness, and I also added the loyalty to friends that serves so many of our barn families so very well.

As part of the story, I had to test Sophie. I did that by leaving enough clues about several possible bad guys so that she had to work for the solution to her mom’s problem. When I got to the end of the book, it was a relief to find that she was up for the job.

Young riders reading BURNED.At my recent signing at Championships in Kentucky, several young riders came up to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. They liked Sophie’s resilience and her ability to pick herself up and get back on the horse no matter what happened to her. Just like writing this book three times before I got it right, Pony Club kids try, try, and try again until they succeed.

Julie Herman

This Blog post originally ran on the Pony Club Pizza, where Pony Club piles on the knowledge.

Bit of This…

Riders grooming their horses
Cooling a horse after a ride.

At Pony Club Rallies, I sometimes work with young riders who come to their safety check not knowing what bit is in their horse’s mouth, or why their trainer has told them to use it. (Just like when flying in an airplane, Pony Club requires a courtesy safety check before any rider gets on the horse. Some of the kids tell me riding feels like flying, so I love that that we too offer a safety check!) 



Why is it important for the child to know what bit they have in their horse’s mouth? For one thing, it gets them thinking about how the equipment they use affects the horse’s comfort and compliance.

If they have a simple loose ring snaffle in the horse’s mouth, it’s pretty forgiving of young hands that may tug against the bit even when they don’t mean to. That is considerate of the horse’s comfort and will help keep a gentle horse listening to their rider.


However, if they are going cross country and the horse has a tendency to run through the rider’s hands, then something with better braking power, such as a kimberwick, may be in order.





Below is a puzzle I put together for young horse-lovers to help them learn the names of different bits. Enjoy!