Western Cowhorses
Veterinarian Gail McCarthy thought cutting horse trainer Casey Brooks was being paranoid with his stories of poisoned horses and sabotage, but when his blue roan mare returns riderless and Casey is found dead, she isn’t so sure.
Gail McCarthy is a horse vet with a hectic schedule, not to mention a horse, a new boyfriend, and a house payment, and her life is more than a little disrupted when she finds two dead bodies in the course of a routine call to a well known reined cowhorse barn.
While attending the annual Winter Equine Seminar at Lake Tahoe, Gail finds one of her fellow horse vets dead, and another accused of his murder. The trail leads back to Gail’s hometown of Santa Cruz, California, and through the twists and turns of the team roping world, plunging Gail into a confrontation with an unlikely killer.
A stalker haunting the ranch of an old friend creates a harrowing personal drama for Gail as she struggles to sort out a mystery involving animal rights and a bitter feud--and win a team roping event at the same time.
Gail embarks on a solitary horse packing trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, with just her dog and her two horses for company. All too soon she stumbles upon a soon-to-be- dead man, and is drawn into the whirlwind of nefarious events that precipitated the tragedy.
Faced with a depression and some big life changes, Gail struggles to find the right path as she is confronted with the strangest mystery she has ever heard of.
Gail is called out to treat injured horses when the biggest boarding stable in the county catches fire. When a second barn fire occurs nearby, Gail  finds herself in the middle of the search to catch the arsonist--before any more horses or people die.
Gail’s horseshoer is shot in her barnyard while shoeing her horse, embroiling Gail in a dangerous attempt to capture an elusive killer.
ost people from outside California, and even many people within California, associate the state with beaches, palm trees and surfing.  These associations are really only relevant to the southern coastal regions.  Most of California is rural; from the huge redwood forest to the vast San Joaquin Valley and the spectacular Sierra Nevada Mountains, it is a sweeping landscape of farms and cattle ranches.  California's primary industries are all land based.
     Rural California is very much western horse country, with many working cattle ranches still in evidence and many people participating in cowhorse events.  Cutting horses, reined cowhorses and team roping horses, all of which appear in Laura Crum's books, are the stuff of everyday life to modern cowboys, though they may be unfamiliar to those who come from other areas and backgrounds.What follows is a description of the regular cowhorse events- cutting, reined cowhorses and team roping. 

Cutting horse events evolved originally in Texas, where cowboys took special pride in owning a horse who would work cattle on his own volition.  A cutting horse separates a cow from the herd under his rider's direction; when the animal is parted away from the group, the rider drops the reins and allows the horse to “hold” the cow on his own.  The cow, being a herd animal, will usually make a strong effort to return to the others, and the sometimes spectacular gymnastic efforts the horse will make to keep the cow separate are the basis for the cutting horse event.  Horses are judged on how well they do this job, and points are taken away for specific mistakes.  A good cutting horse loves his work and will, with no cue from his rider, “duck and dive” dramatically in order to hold a cow.
Reined cowhorses are a California specialty, and are judged by how well they obey a riders cues.  Also called bridle horses, reined cowhorses are the result of the Spanish influence in California history. The horse culture in California was being formed long before English was the spoken language.  The vaqueros were excellent horsemen and taught their horses to slide to a stop, spin in a circle, and run backwards at the lightest touch of the reins, as well as work cattle.  In the reined cowhorse events, a horse displays his ability to perform a “dry” pattern, which usually includes the above maneuvers.  After this a single cow will be released into the pen, and the horse will be asked to show his ability to control the cow under the rider's direction.  This event is based on the moves necessary to separate and pen cattle on ranches.
Team roping also originated in California.  Also known as dally team roping, this rodeo event involves two people (and two horses).  Unlike cutting or reined cowhorse events, team roping is strictly a timed event.  At a nod from the roper, a cow is released into the arena.  The cow immediately runs hard for the end of the pen. After a moment's head start the two horsemen chase.  One rider (the header) ropes the steer around the horns, dallies quickly, and the horse and rider turn to the left. As the rope pulls the cow,  his hind legs are presented to the “heeler” whose job it is to rope both back feet at once.  When both head and heel rope are tight, time is called.  Fastest time wins.  Substantial time penalties are assessed for catching only one foot or not giving the steer his head start (“breaking the string”). Team roping horses need to be strong and fast, particularly head horses, as they take the weight and momentum of the steer; they also need to able to “read” cattle well.
                                           Sue Crocker and Laura roping on Pistol and Flanigan.
more information about western horses is contained in the pages of Laura Crum’s books.  For cutting horses, read Cutter, for reined cowhorses, try Hoofprints, for team roping horses, see Roughstock.  Roped  is also about team roping horses and ranch cowhorses in general. Slickrock is about horse packing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Breakaway deals with trail riding on the California coast and Hayburner concerns breaking a colt. Forged takes Gail on a pack trip along the beaches of California's Monterey Bay and Moonblind features a Thoroughbred layup farm on the cliffs overlooking that same bay. Chasing Cans, Laura's latest book, centers on a legendary barrel racing trainer.