Welcome to the 2022 Inspirational Western Women series!
January is all about fresh beginnings and in many areas, like where I live, snow and cold and warm fires and hot cocoa. And there is no better way to spur this series into the new year than with my next featured gal.
I’d like to introduce Doris Eraldi, Women Writing the West’s incredible webmaster, horsewoman, and author of western fiction.
So let’s meet her, shall we?
From my earliest memories, I wanted to be a cowboy, like my uncle and cousins.
Whenever I announced this, though, my practical mother would point out that cowboys lived on ranches and we lived on a couple of acres just outside the town of Sonoma, where my family owned a store.
My cousins would tease me that I couldn’t be a cowboy – I was a girl.
This didn’t seem fair.
And I didn’t give up.
Luckily my uncle taught me to ride and when I was about eight years old. He took me to watch one of my cousins participate in a local horse show. It was there I discovered that there was such as profession as horse trainer, and realized it was the horses I really wanted to work with; not the cows so much.
So I changed my life’s goal to be a horse trainer instead of a cowboy.
I spent every spare moment “training” my uncle’s old gelding to do stuff that he already probably knew how to do, but my uncle praised every little thing I showed him. “Look, Uncle Bill. I can make Apache go from a walk to a lope without trotting!” He would smile and nod. “Good job. You’re using your legs.”
The only other thing I wanted to be when I was a child, was a writer. I wrote dozens of “books,” starting when I was in first grade. All of them featured horses and dogs. My mom would actually sew the pages together for me, and I would write a bio of myself — Doris Eraldi writes stories for children who love horses – and draw a big circle with a C in it to copyright my work.
When I was twelve years old, I got my very own horse and never looked back.
I lived on horseback.
We roamed all over the hills above Sonoma Valley, and I started going to little schooling shows. I was always trying to teach my horse something new, and finally, when I was fifteen, I got my first horse training job – a neighbor’s young mare. I became a professional trainer.
Or so I thought.
There was an awful lot I didn’t know. Then another career break turned up; the local trainer needed help at his barn and I landed the job. Cleaning stalls, feeding and helping saddle horses were my first duties, but before long I was teaching beginner lessons and conditioning the show horses.
Then my boss invited me to go along as a helper to the shows and finally he let me actually show some of his nice Paint Horses in the Youth classes. I worked for him all the way through High School and after graduation, I continued full time as a riding instructor and youth show coach, assistant trainer, and broodmare manager.
I continued to write during that time, and published short stories and poems in local journals, and had a monthly column reporting High School news at our local newspaper. I often think how lucky I was to be doing the two things I always wanted to do, when I was only in my early 20s.
But, no life goes that smoothly.
My boss had to retire early due to health issues and I started my own training business, but it was a very hard way to make a living. I also married and so my time and locale were not completely up to me. We moved to a new part of the state for my husband’s job and I found that maintaining a business where no one knew me was a huge challenge.
I didn’t write anything during this time.
It was a lot of work and not much play, and then my young marriage began to falter. I found myself struggling to rent an old ramshackle barn and keep my business going and then looking for somewhere I could afford to live on my own. I owned ten horses, including a stallion, and knew only a handful of people in the area. Then there was a hard winter and the old barn I was renting, flooded.
I needed help, and I needed it fast.
Fate was kind to me again though. One of the few neighbors that I had become friendly with, mentioned a nearby cutting horse trainer and I went to meet him in hopes of finding a safe place to board my horses. I immediately liked the trainer, and learned that his assistant had just quit. I rode with him a few times and was offered the job, which included a small trailer house tucked in behind the stable office.
At the time I had no experience with cutting horses but found it fascinating.
I worked full time and kept a few of my own training horses there to ride after-hours. It made for long days and hard work but was some of the best times of my life. This trainer believed that all of the show horses should get out on the trails at least a few times a week to keep their minds and bodies in top condition, so our days included riding out on the beautiful hills above the Point Reyes Peninsula, with views of Tomales Bay and the ocean to the west and wooded green canyons to the east.
Sometimes I would shake my head and wonder if I was really getting paid to do this.
I loved the cutting horses but I never got very good at showing them. I started the colts, helped handle the cattle (a cowboy at last!), and still had my handful of competition youth riders to take to shows. I also showed my own personal horse. And, I started writing again.
I took writing classes at the local college and thanks to the encouragement of my professor and my writing group, completed a novel.
In 1999, SETTLER’S LAW was published by Berkeley Westerns (Penguin Putnam). Set in 1870s Montana Territory, it is the story of a man trying to turn his life around and solve the mystery of his family’s murders, and just like every story I wrote as a child, it prominently featured horses and dogs.
A sequel, SETTLER’S CHASE ( a WILLA Literary Award Finalist), was published in 2010, and in between, I wrote a contemporary novel that is still unpublished. I am currently working on another historical novel, this one set here in northern California after the Gold Rush.
I write for several online newsletters, and build websites and manage email marketing and newsletters, a career that I truly enjoy.
My cutting horse trainer friend–now my partner of over 30 years–and I own a small ranch in Potter Valley, CA. Neither of us is training horses professionally anymore, but we have our horses and dogs and stunning scenery, and I am still surprised that my life has been filled with my earliest loves; horses, dogs, writing, and beautiful landscapes.
D.H. Eraldi writes, rides, and hides in Mendocino County, California. She has published two Historical Fiction novels (one a WILLA Finalist), has twenty years of web design experience, and too many horses.