Read my Interview for the FEI

Well, I always knew I’d be featured on the FEI’s website.

I just assumed it would be to celebrate my gold medal in the Olympics. I think “equestrian author” has a nice ring to it, though!

One of the best things that could have possibly happened to me in January, when I’d just found out my job was ending and I was trying to sort out What Happens Next, was receiving an email asking if I could schedule an interview for the FEI website.  Getting a feature story at the governing body of all equestrian sport? I felt much better after that, thanks! Timing can truly be everything.

The interview itself was a really lovely phone chat, in which we discussed everything from my childhood notebooks filled with pony stories to the current state of racing. I’m quite happy with the way it turned out (although I could live without some of those pink-cheeked selfies that were lifted from my Facebook page).

There are some tips for equestrian authors in the piece, but if you’re looking for more meaty stuff, do stick around here as I’m going to be continuing to write about the business of equestrian fiction at nataliekreinert.com!

So take a look at the interview, and please share it on your social media networks to help get the word out to readers who haven’t found out about equestrian fiction yet!

Link – FEI: Reading and Writing

First Read: Horses in Wonderland

Horses in Wonderland Kindle CoverThe sequel to Show Barn Blues is now on pre-sale at Amazon! Thanks to so many readers for making it a number one horse book in several categories! Lots of early readers at Patreon have been loving the updates to the story of Grace, Kennedy, Anna and the other riders, grooms and boarders at Seabreeze Equestrian Center. If you’re not a Patreon member, no worries! Here’s the first chapter of Horses in Wonderland, just to give you a taste of what’s coming.

Just for reference, this book takes place about two years after Show Barn Blues. If you read The Eventing Series, you’ll know that the summer after Show Barn Blues takes place in Pride, Book 2 of The Eventing Series. This action, while it doesn’t overlap with The Eventing Series, picks up the summer after Luck, Book 4 of The Eventing Series.

Grace has been dealing with the increasing construction around her farm for years now, and she’s the last hold-out in what used to be an equestrian neighborhood. A luxury resort is going in right next door, and the construction noise is taking its toll on daily life at the equestrian center. What should she do? Grace thinks it might be time to move on.

Take a look…

Horses in Wonderland

Chapter 1

Summer was in the air, and in Florida, that feeling was more like a warning than a promise.

The morning’s heavy humidity had settled onto my skin like a cloak the moment I left my little bungalow. The wooden porch steps, gently rotting into slivers and chips after living through eighty seasons of dry winters and wet summers, squeaked a good morning beneath my boots. All of the wood—the floorboards, the porch, the stairs—had more give on humid mornings. More pliable, more squeaky. I could tell the new season had arrived from the moment I put my feet on the floor this morning. The longer you lived somewhere, the more you became aware of the barometers all around you. Nature forecast the weather every day, in chirps and frog-song, in locust chorals and soft westerly winds, in spiraling leaves and creaking wood. I paused at the foot of the steps and stretched, dew-drops clinging to the hairs on my arms. A spiderweb glittering from the little crooked light by the front door. A dark early-May morning at the end of a short spring. Perhaps my last spring here, in the house my grandfather built. I paused at the bottom step, swept my gaze around, and soaked in my surroundings.

The pre-dawn sky had just lightened to cobalt, a blue growing richer with every passing second. A swirl of fog wound its way through a small glade of live oaks. Just beyond it, the blue-white light over the barn’s side-entrance hummed away, swooping moths orbiting its moon-glow. I pointed the toes of my well-worn paddock boots towards the barn, brushed a few unruly strands of gray and brown forelock from my eyes, and started off to work. My footsteps were softened by the wet leaves piled up on the sparse grass and sandy patches beneath the trees, but the horses would still hear me. I imagined them turning their heads all at once, ears pricked, gazing into the darkness, ready to turn on their whinnies and neighs at precisely the right moment.

My gaze shifted to the right, towards the construction site next door. There was a model villa going up over there, with just a thin belt of pine trees left to shield the future residents from the smelly, noisy reality of equestrian life. Just wait until the first morning someone left their windows open all night and heard my barn’s wake-up song, belted out in three dozen or more untrained voices, each more shrill and lusty than the last.

A tree frog peeped in the gutter above the open barn door as my feet hit the pavement, but he was quickly drowned out by those thirty-some roaring horses. From across the driveway, the night turn-out horses neighed and pushed at their paddock gates, adding the rattling of chains to the morning music recital.

“How quickly you forget,” I announced to the barn at large, flipping on the lights. “Twelve hours ago you were a herd of cows in clover.”

The barn’s overhead lamps were huge, the kind you saw in school gyms, and they’d take a good fifteen minutes to warm up to full capacity. For now, the broad barn aisle ahead of me was washed in a cool dim glow. The horses blinked at the sudden shift from nighttime to twilight, and then went straight back to whinnying. A few kicks were added here and there, fore-hooves shoved against stall doors, hind hooves slammed against side walls to prove some point to the neighboring horse.

“Your percussion section is out of rhythm,” I observed.

No one listened to me. They never did.

“Good morning,” I continued the greetings to my left and my right as I proceeded down the wide concrete aisle, horses on either side of me stamping and shouting for my immediate attention. I alternated between pleasantries and protestations. “Good god. Yes, I get it. Hello, Ivor. Yes, you’re hungry. Good morning, Splash! Oh, please, all of you shut up, it’s too early for this.”

No one listened. Two long aisles of horses sang the song of their people. It was me against the herd, and I’d given up trying to shout them down years ago. Everything I said these days was for my own benefit.

At the end of the aisle, just past the school tack room where the heaps of battered riding lesson tack and brush boxes perched on top of weathered old tack trunks, I turned left and unlocked the feed room door. It was odd, and a little pleasant, to be here alone. Usually there would be grooms here throwing down hay and getting everyone’s bellies settled with some roughage before their grain, but this morning I’d started early, so it would be just me out here for a while. I didn’t feel like listening to the barn complaints for the next twenty minutes while I went out to the hay-shed and loaded up the Gator with bales of timothy, so they could eat their grain first for once. The magazines promised dire consequences for horses who were fed grain on empty stomachs, but I was already several decades deep into housekeeping before those veterinary studies had come out, and I felt comfortable breaking their rules from time to time.

I had to rummage through two trash cans full of pellets and sweet feed before I found the feed scoop in its shallow grave, buried under the alfalfa pellets. One of my employees, Kennedy, had been in charge of refilling the feed bins last night, and she could be a little scatterbrained. I dug it out with a sigh, glad she wasn’t around right now. I wasn’t up to Kennedy’s bright-eyed enthusiasm at this time of morning.

Six o’clock was early for me, but I would be short on help today and figured I’d better get a head-start, because the afternoon tumult of riding lessons and trail rides was not going to take a vacation just because my groom head-count was down by three. Not so many months ago, there had been enough grooms for the endless work of keeping a massive show barn ticking over smoothly, but the threat of moving properties was hovering over our heads, and grooms were not known to stay aboard sinking ships. As they went on to greener pastures, one by one, I waved bon voyage to the tail-lights of their pick-up trucks, then trudged back into the barn to take on a few more of their abandoned responsibilities. There was no point in trying to hire people when I couldn’t promise whether their job would be here or an hour away in six months.

Beneath the sterile gleam of fluorescent lights, I pulled out the morning supplement packs, individually packaged for each horse, and stacked them in order on top of the grain cart. I dumped what was left of the pellets in the trash can into the grain cart’s well and topped it off with most of another fifty-pound bag. I grabbed a couple of old Strongid buckets’ worth of alfalfa pellets and sweet feed from the other trash cans. Then I threw the feed scoop on top of the whole pile, dragged the heavy cart into the aisle, and stopped immediately at the first stall on my left.

A bay Hanoverian mare named Catarina eyeballed me, and then the grain cart, with barely contained excitement. She whinnied explosively and kicked her door. “Stop it,” I snapped, the words blended into one fierce command, and reached down for the first supplement pack.

Moses, the name on the pack read.

At this moment, I realized I’d stacked the supplement packs backwards. I redid them. There were thirty-seven in all. The horses were not amused with this delay. Catarina, with her front-row seat to the proceedings, nearly had a fit. “Here,” I sighed, throwing a scoop of grain through the little feed door above her bucket, and dumping the supplements on top of it. She dug in with her mouth wide open, like a lion going for the kill, before I had even pulled back my hand. I whacked her with the plastic supplement pack for being so rude, but she ignored me. Food was more important than a puny slap from a puny human.

By six forty-five every horse was finished with grain and nosing through fresh hay, and I was exhausted. Well, not exhausted from the work I’d done, precisely, but at the thought of so much more to come, with the same routine yet to come tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, forever and ever. I’d been the manager for so long, and I’d done precisely that: I’d managed. You, go handle feed. Carole, go handle hay. Mike, start filling water buckets. Liz, pull off blankets. Me, I’ll be in the office, going over the day’s schedule. Carole, Mike and Liz were all part of the past now. Tom had been gone even longer, off to work with his first love, marine mammal rescue. I had Margaret, Kennedy and Anna full-time still, and part-time help from some Ocala castaways. Ricky and Nadine were young but battered, in that way a poor Southern upbringing can mark a person. Ricky drove a rock truck most days, hauling dirt to the construction site next door. Nadine worked part-time at a Hair Cuttery. Both of them spent Saturday through Monday here, mucking stalls and being generally useful while they gave the full-time grooms a much-needed day off.

I looked up over the central rank of stalls to the windows overlooking the barn floor. My dark office window looked blankly down, useless without me peering out of it, watching the barn live its own measured life.

My phone rang from somewhere down the aisle and I ran for it.

“Kennedy?” I answered, breathless from my sprint to the feed room where I’d abandoned my phone on a shelf next to a tub of bute. “Please tell me you’re coming today. We have six horses going out at two and—“

“Of course I’m coming,” Kennedy laughed. She was always so awake. Kennedy was twenty-six and had a naturally chipper attitude which had made her perfect for the role of princess at a long-running dinner show on the other side of the theme park district. This also made her perfect for teaching little girls to ride and for leading trail rides. She put on a very convincing cowboy-themed ride, which was especially impressive when you considered we were operating in a rapidly developing section of Florida and the trails were based out of an English show barn, about as far from the Wild West as one could go. “I just wanted to know if you needed help early this morning. I’m up, so…”

I looked outside, across the empty parking lot towards the pine woods at the farm’s eastern border. The sky was just turning pink above the stark longleaf pines and the spike-edged palmettos, and a hint of morning light was creeping into the barn, brushing the stalls closest to the end, inching across the feed room floor towards my boots. At my far right, the hay shed stood dark and forbidding, stacked high with bales. I still had to throw down bales and get everyone fed up. The night horses had to be brought in, and the day horses turned out. The night horses were watching me steadily over the dark fencing, occasionally belting out a fresh chorus of whinnies in case I’d forgotten them. Behind the paddocks, along the farm’s southern fence-line, a red-tiled villa was catching the first glints of orange sunlight, a morning glow highlighting its fanciful arches and mosaic tile-work around the windows. The model home for the new resort village going in next door, somehow closer to my barn than my own house was. The sight of it was enough to make me droop.

“I need help,” I said honestly, and I remembered that not long ago, I couldn’t have admitted that, not to Kennedy, not to anyone. As more years went by, the more thankful I was for people like her. People who got up at six-thirty for no apparent reason and thought, I should go into work early today.

“I’ll be right over,” Kennedy promised. “With breakfast. Hey, when is Anna coming back?”

“This afternoon, I hope,” I said. “I haven’t seen her car here yet.”

“I hope so. I miss her so much.”

Something about Kennedy’s tone made me pause. She was given to extravagant emotions, so I would always expect her to react just a little over-the-top when someone close to her did something basic and expected, like go home and visit her parents for a week as Anna had done. I missed Anna, naturally; my sweet and unruffled barn manager had been part of my barn family for years, and she was certainly the calm glue that held us together when ridiculous situations—hurricanes, wildfires, a skunk in the feed room—threatened our sanity.

But Kennedy sounded as if she was absolutely pining for Anna to come home.

“Look for her when you’re back from your trail ride,” I suggested. “I better get back to work now. There’s a lot on this morning and just me right now.”

“Okay, I’m leaving now. And I’m bringing breakfast,” the optimist said. “Just relax.”

I slipped the phone into the back pocket of my jeans. Just relax. Just relax. Kennedy was out of her mind if she thought I had the luxury to relax for one damn minute. I hadn’t spent all these decades running a show barn for my health and mental wellbeing.

I hustled out of the feed room and up the barn aisle, ready to start swapping turn-out horses with stalled ones before the construction clamor started up next door. I’d gotten through two paddocks and had two horses in hand, just leading them through the gate of their paddock, when the first rock trucks started roaring by on the other side of the back fence. The horse on my right spooked forward, the horse on my left spooked backward. I was splayed out like a scarecrow, hauling on both lead-ropes in an effort to reel them back in.

“That noise is hardly new,” I scolded, tapping a wide-eyed warmblood on the nose once I had him heading in the right direction again. “Why don’t you get a grip?” With that, I released them both into the paddock so they could bolt around like idiots, snorting and snapping their tails, as if they hadn’t been living next to a construction site for the past six months.

“Might as well get over it,” I advised, snapping the gate closed. “Because it’s not going to change any time soon.”

I walked across the driveway and back inside the barn for the next two horses, thinking again that it was time to get over myself, get a new farm, and get out of here, forever.

Read more at Patreon with a subscription, or pre-order your copy of Horses in Wonderland at Amazon

Horses in Wonderland Now on Sale

If you’re looking for something new for your Kindle, pre-order Horses in Wonderland and it will download automatically on December 26th, 2018. That’s perfect if you’re looking for a good excuse to hide out from family after the holiday… just let them know you have some very important reading to do!

Just to catch you up, Horses in Wonderland is the sequel to Show Barn Blues, and yes, I can totally use “long-awaited” to describe it. After all, Show Barn Blues came out in 2015. That’s three years ago. And I’ve been getting requests for more about Grace and Kennedy and all of Seabreeze Equestrian Center ever since.

Horses in Wonderland Facebook Cover.png

With this book, I decided to have some fun with the surroundings. Seabreeze is located just outside of the tourist mecca of Walt Disney World Resort, which makes for a very strange equine experience. I based the barn itself and a lot of its unique problems on my time as a manager at Grand Cypress Equestrian Center, an old central Florida institution which closed its doors about ten years ago (making me officially old). I also took inspiration from some of my favorite places around Walt Disney World, including Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, and, of course, the Magic Kingdom.

Horses in Wonderland Kindle Cover.jpgThe result, I think, is a lot of fun.

If you’re dying to take a look at Horses in Wonderland right now, every blessed page of it is available to subscribers at Patreon! At the $5 a month subscription level, you can read the entire first/second draft, plus you’ll receive a copy of the finished Kindle book in your email on publication day. (And you’ll get to read whatever I start writing next, as I write it.)

If you’re ready to pre-order the Kindle, hop over to Amazon and get that bad boy set to download on Dec. 26.

And if you’re waiting on a glorious paperback to hug and love and admire on your bookshelf, please stay tuned for the release date! (Viva physical media!)

Thank you for your support and the encouragement to continue Grace’s story!

Get HORSES IN WONDERLAND here.

Join me at Patreon here.

 

Authentic Settings: So You Want To Write A Horse Book, Part 2

For me, writing horse books is rooted in authenticity.

(This is the 2nd post in the series, So You Want To Write A Horse Book. Read the first post here.)

This can get tiresome for a writer, when you’re trying to follow a plot thread and find that it leads to a dead end, or a “that wouldn’t happen in real life” situation, but it’s the price we pay for writing for the pickiest group of readers in the universe.

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A casual viewer sees a beautiful horse in a field of wildflowers. An equestrian wonders what kind of flowers they are, if they’re poisonous, zooms in to see if that’s a manure pile in the background, and starts wondering when that horse last had a fecal exam for parasites. Horse people. Think. Differently.

(You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. Here is an excerpt from an actual review left an Amazon:

“I tried, I really did but I couldn’t get past chapter 3. Chapter one was bad enough where the supposed “expert” horse trainer expresses his concern that the horse has injured its ANKLE (seriously????).”

Now, this was my first book, and I’d slaved over the details, and I was selling it on the virtue of its details, so this review felt like more than just the usual slap in the face sensation I get from your regularly scheduled bad reviews. So I broke a major rule of writing and responded to the bad review with an editorial example of using the word “ankle” in horse-racing circles:

‘The “ankle” issue is a verbiage commonly used in horse racing. For example: “Havre de Grace Retired With Ankle Injury” (The Blood-Horse, April 25, 2012: http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/69168/havre-de-grace-retired-with-ankle-injury). The term “ankle” is generally used when speaking of the fetlocks and lower-leg issues. Again, that’s a horse racing quirk; it might not be true of everyone’s equine experience, however.’

I’ll never know if the reviewer forgave me for using a word she wasn’t familiar with, but I would assume not. And there you have it, an example of writing for equestrians.)

I guess a very real question a potential writer might have right now is, “Why would you do this to yourself?”

We just do.

Authentic settings: this is a decision you have to make before you begin typing your first paragraphs of your book. It’s not just about using the right brush on your horse; it’s also, it’s a a lot, about settings. You have to decide: will your book reflect the real world like a window, or like a mirror?

It’s easier to make your own rules when you’re dealing with show horses, to set up a kind of looking-glass version of reality, with your own divisions and point systems, and avoid wading into the sea of mysteries that is double-A rated shows and Marshall & Sterling points and getting qualifications for entering an Advanced level Three-Day Event, unless you are incredibly comfortable in that environment.

By incredibly comfortable, I mean, you’ve been riding, training, and showing in those divisions for years. You can fill out an entry form with your eyes closed. It’s part of your normal daily life.

The need for this precision is real. Most people might not notice if you get a couple of show-ring details wrong, although if you call a fetlock an ankle, watch out! (…kidding…) But there are people who will, and they will call you out on it. There will be A-circuit kids reading your A-circuit novel, and you’re going to say something that annoys them.

It’s just a question of keeping those annoyances to a minimum.

Everyone comes up with a different solution to the window/looking glass problem. Here are three examples:

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Choosing real vs. fictional locations is all about your comfort level. Photo: Natalie Keller Reinert

Reality for the Setting; Fiction for the Close-Ups:

I use real governing bodies (The Jockey Club, The United States Eventing Association) and real championships/stake races (The American Eventing Championships, the Kentucky Derby) along with fictional competition. My horses run in races of my own invention (The Mizner Stakes) and in made-up events (The Sunshine State Horse Trials). For locations, I only write about racetracks I’m very familiar with, like Saratoga (the setting for Other People’s Horses), or Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Downs, Gulfstream Park, and a few others. I write almost exclusively about Florida and New York because I know those places so well. I wouldn’t be able to write a compelling, authentic story about a barn in Arizona, or California, or even Illinois, because I just don’t know those places at all.

I do make sure my timing is right as well. If I’m running a horse in a fictional stakes at Gulfstream, it’s when Gulfstream would actually be open for racing. But I make up the races to avoid A) stealing glory from horses who have actually won those races; and B) to avoid getting caught up in the pesky details of condition books, qualifications, weights, etc., which is just way too much effort to put into a novel, however correct I’d like it to be. I would consider this the middle-road for authentic settings.

Keep it Real:

Fellow racing writer Mara Dabrishus isn’t afraid to get completely into real-life competition in the Breeders’ Cup and other major stakes races, and she does a great job of depicting American racing without feeling the need to spend a lot of time explaining what the hell she’s talking about. She spends more time on the actual backstretch of actual racetracks than I do. When I have Alex retreat to a rented barn or back to the farm, Mara’s characters are still slugging it out on-site at Belmont or Gulfstream. I have a lot of admiration for her discipline in this regard. I also find that when I’m reading her books, my eye is drawn to the details of places I recognize and know intimately. I’m always testing her descriptions against my memories. Be aware that when you use a real locale, you will have readers who know that place inside-out, possibly better than you do. This style is a gutsy move.

Create a Fictional, but Believable, Setting to Support the Story:

My friend Jessica Burkhart went with entirely fictional lower and collegiate-level organizations for her series Canterwood Crestwhich features secondary-school competition. Rather than get wrapped up in different sports, governing bodies, and the intricacies of Young Riders Championships and the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, she simply developed a series of district, regional, and national championships which her characters could compete in, with the end-goal being the real United States Equestrian Team. The wisdom of this approach: it gives you so much more time to concentrate on story, and it allows riders (and hey, non-riders) of all disciplines to enjoy the series without needing technical explanations of how the discipline is run. Your story has plenty of room to shine.

What’s Right For You?

I think I can speak for anyone reading this when I say we’re all on a quest for authenticity. That’s what our readers tell us they love, over and over again. Even this one-star review for my first novel contained this caveat: “Writer was good with the horse terms and nailed the references to the life of a rider.” (The first part of the review, of course, was that it was a terrible story.)

So I believe it goes without saying that we’re all going to write the truest thing we know when it comes to our horses and our riding. We will never be allowed to gallop out of the arena after a jumping class without severe consequences; we will never feed our horse a celebratory pizza on his birthday; we will never put our neighbor’s kid on our Grand Prix dressage horse that we adopted from the BLM when we were 12 years old and had in the Olympics by the time we were 15; we will never wear a red coat to a short stirrup class, or a shadbelly to show-jumping class. I don’t have to actually point that out because we all know better. I just do it to point out what we’ve been reading all our lives, and why we’re so excited to change all that.

One good way to decide on your commitment level is to write (or think aloud in the shower, whatever works for you) the general plot-line of your book. And we’ll talk more about that in the future, but in the meantime, think of it like this. You say to yourself, “And then Michelle finds out she has a shot at the Young Riders Championships.”

You pause and think about the Young Riders Championships.

-How much do you know about it?

-How much research will you have to put into accurately portraying the Young Riders Championships?

-Will this present obstacles to your timelime? Maybe you’re writing a story with a big Christmas climax or a new foal is born at some point, but the Young Riders Championships is in July and that would throw everything off. Do you really want to change the entire story because now it needs to end in July instead of January?

-If any of these things feel problematic, consider how easy it be to simply make Young Riders into something else plausible. Why not just make up a championship called the Eventing Youth Nationals? Boom, done, easy. Your problems are solved.

Deciding on the level of authenticity in your story’s setting has much to do with your comfort level with the topics you’re tackling. If you feel at all in over your head, back away and do some serious soul-searching about how important that setting really is to your story. It might be everything. Or it might make more sense to just wave your fiction wand and make a new, more suitable setting come to life.

If you choose this route, you are not giving up your equestrian street cred. You’re actually cementing it by committing to the details you know — the nitty-gritty of equestrian life, the ins and outs of the days we spend with horses — and not compromising the knowledge level you’re presenting to your also-knowledgeable readers by winging it with some of the things they know by heart.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

 

What a year for horse books!

I’m so excited, I have to blog about it.

Today two of my favorite authors announced they have new books coming out this fall. And another favorite of mine just dropped the latest in a fast-paced serial which has “next weekend’s read” all over it. While there are always awesome new books to read, I’m really excited that these titles are all equestrian fiction.

How did that happen, anyway? Five years ago equestrian fiction as we know it did not exist. There were plenty of thrillers with horses in them, and lots of younger reader-to-young adult titles. But what we have now goes deeper than “a story with horses in it.” We have amazing and talented equestrians writing for equestrians – of all ages – with a modern contemporary voice and realistic, relatable plots.

I’m so excited. Did I say that already?

Anyway, now is the time to catch up with these authors before their new books come out. Here’s what we are looking at:

Mara Dabrishus is releasing the sequel to her gorgeous Saratoga story, Stay the DistanceIn case you were wondering what a perfect book cover looks like, it’s this one:

From MaraDabrishus.com

From MaraDabrishus.com

Wouldn’t this look great on merch? I’m thinking tote bag. Tote bag, Mara! Let’s make this happen!

The next one I’m psyched for? Mary Pagones’ Quick Bright Things Come to Confusion, a sequel to Fortune’s Fool.

Pagones Tweet

From Mary Pagones’ Twitter today!

I’m not surprised this cover is totally unique — so are Mary Pagones’ completely original approaches to equestrian fiction. I am so excited to get back into Simon’s head. I wonder if he still listens to The Killers all the time. I have so much respect for his musical taste.

(And this title is amazing.)

If you haven’t read Fortune’s Fool or The Horse is Never Wrong, I have a review of these books here.

So all of this to get excited for, and I’m still pumped for this weekend when I’m going to spend some quality time catching up with Loxwood, the delightful eventing series from British author Grace Wilkinson. I haven’t reviewed Loxwood or A Perfect Stridethe first two books in the series, because I’m behind on everything… but I can assure you they’re fantastic. Her new book, Between the Flags, picks up on a cliffhanger from A Perfect Stride. Let’s do this, weekend!

The latest from Grace Wilkinson promises more eventing delights.

The latest from Grace Wilkinson promises more eventing delights.

I know this isn’t even close to all the new horse books for the second half of 2016, but all of these coming at me at once have me kind of giddy! So if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of reading to catch up on…!

Show Barn Blues Kindle on Sale This Weekend

Are you looking for a great read this weekend?

Show Barn Blues Kindle edition is on sale for 99 cents at Amazon through Sunday! This is a great opportunity to check out the novel Horse Nation called “delightfully addictive barn drama.”

You’ll also meet Grace and visit Seabreeze Equestrian Center for the first time, getting to know her before Jules does in the upcoming sequel to Ambition.

Reviewers say:

“I found this to be a wonderful read. I was immediately drawn into the world of Grace and her barn, and felt I was there with them. Good story and characters, lots of growth and adventures. I’m looking forward to reading more!” — Kim Walnes: Eventer, The Way of The Horse

“A must-read for Hunter/Jumper riders.” — Mary Pagones, Author of The Horse is Never Wrong

Get a preview here:
https://read.amazon.com/kp/card?asin=B0150ECJTK&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_IBnTwb0M8SX6Z&tag=retired0b-20

Two Winners: Equestrian Fiction from Mary Pagones

Here’s a rare experience for me: reading a book so intensely personal, I was literally nodding my head “yes, yes,” along with the narrator’s internal dialogue. Here’s a rare experience for me: finishing a book, reading the teaser of the follow-up book on the next page, and immediately downloading that book so I could continue the journey I was on. Here’s a rare experience for me: the next book was completely different in every way, from voice to characters to motivation, and it still affected me as much as the first one.

Pagones THINWI’m talking about the work of Mary Pagones here, an equestrian writer who Gets It. She’s one of those rare breed of writers who can get inside the head of a horse-person and lay bare our hopes and dreams, our ambitions and fears.

And she does it in a clever way, too.

Pagones starts her two-book (so far?) equestrian series with The Horse is Never Wrong, a totally non-conformist Young Adult horse story. (When I think about this book and how far we’ve come from The Saddle Club and Thoroughbred, I am just amazed and grateful for the gifts of independent publishing.) Narrator Heather isn’t impressed with her Asberger’s diagnosis — a crutch her teachers seem to love pinning her social anxieties and occasional academic blunders upon, but which might not actually exist, since Asberger’s has been folded into the Autism spectrum. All Heather knows is, everyone else is weird, and she is just doing her own thing. What’s wrong with that?

Heather discovers riding and riding is good for her… but it isn’t a Cinderella Goes To The Olympics story. Heather as a character is beautifully written — she narrates without self-pity, without (intentional) humor — she’s a just-the-facts-ma’am reporter. Her voice is unerringly true to herself. Not particularly flowery, even stilted at times, and always pretty sure something is going to go wrong. Here, Heather sums up her biggest challenge in life: dealing with herself.

“I’m just going to have suck and up and deal with the me I have been given, just like I have learned not to complain about a horse’s behavior. Change your behavior; it’s not the horse’s fault, I’m told.”

I got Heather. I totally understood Heather. I felt an almost alarming connection to Heather — she took me back to ninth grade (which was not a place I particularly wanted to go, but… I did some good riding that year, and I met some cool people at the barn to make up for the people I didn’t even remotely understand at my high school).

And that’s what makes Fortune’s Fool so interesting.

Pagones FFSimon, who makes his first appearance in The Horse is Never Wrong, couldn’t be more different from Heather. It’s several years in the future and Simon has gone from the local barn’s resident bronc-buster, that teenager who will get on anything, to a high school senior about to embark on his life’s dream. He’s going to be a working student at an eventing barn (clearly inspired by Tamarack Hill) and take life by the horns. He’s going to make a living as an eventer. He’s going to ride horses forever and ever and no one can stop him.

Simon is brash, arrogant, proud, hot-tempered, know-it-all… and yet he’s totally lovable. He listens to 80s punk and New Wave, worships The Killers, and is dying for a pair of Doc Martens if only they didn’t cost as much as a new pair of paddock boots. No one can tell Simon a damn thing… Simon knows best, thank you very much, especially about his riding, especially especially about his hell-for-leather cross-country style and his possibly-psychotic horse, Fortune.

Oh boy, did I get Simon.

If Heather took me back to my awkward “only my horse understands me” freshman year, Simon took me back to my post-high-school “I’ll sleep/earn money when I’m dead” years. (I’m still kind of in those years, except I give in to sleep way more often. I still don’t really earn any money, though. I write horse books.) But seriously… listened to 80s punk and New Wave. wanted a pair of Doc Martens but couldn’t justify the cost. knew that my parents and my teachers and life and everyone were wrong — there was no need to waste time on so-called intellectual pursuits, not when I could ride a horse, take care of a horse, clean up after a barn full of horses…

As truthful to writing from Simon’s perspective as she was from Heather’s, Pagones does a total 180 shift in her writing. Simon’s sentences are jagged, his observations are hyperbolic, his language is very, very salty. Simon cusses like a sailor, but what 18-year-old working student doesn’t? I used to boast that I only spoke English but thanks to fellow working students and foreign grooms, I could swear in five languages. (I don’t remember them anymore.) Simon thinks in bursts of emotion and long moments of introspection; what some people see as editing misses are more likely the workings of his mind. No one thinks in perfect sentences.

The aching truth behind Simon’s rough swagger is that he doesn’t know what’s going to happen and that’s scary as hell. He doesn’t have money, just talent. And he’s just as plagued by thirty under thirty lists as I’ve always been — of course, now my pet peeve are forty under forty lists. Could people stop being so accomplished, please? Here’s Simon, telling it like it is:

The sense of motionlessness is particularly strong when I read about about someone my age winning an international event. This seems to confirm everyone’s opinion that I’m making some sort of horrible mistake with my life.

He’s eighteen, he’s in a state somewhere between elation and panic about the future, and he’s in very deep waters, not just professionally, but romantically.

Been there.

What it all comes down to: The Horse is Never Wrong and Fortune’s Fool are not your average horse books. I’ve never read two books by the same author that were written so differently, and yet so genuinely. I’ve never identified with two characters so completely opposite in every way. These books are challenging in structure and story, completely honest to the equestrian life, and by turns both soft and gritty. Non-traditional and utterly readable, these are wonderful new entries into the growing equestrian fiction niche.

Click to find The Horse is Never Wrong and Fortune’s Fool at Amazon in Kindle ebook and paperback.