So You Want to Write a Horse Book: Part One

You can write a horse book! This blog series will help aspiring writers put their equestrian novel together, from bestselling author Natalie Keller Reinert.

Updated March 17, 2019 by Natalie Keller Reinert

I’ve been writing horse books for the past eight years. It started out as a wish: I wish there were more horse books I wanted to read! It turned into a project: I’m going to write a book I’d like to read. It ended up as a career: in 2019, I decided to write horse books (and some other fiction) full-time.

So You Want to Write a Horse Book is a blog series I started in 2016 to help answer the questions I regularly get from aspiring equestrian fiction writers. Whether you want to write young adult, middle grade, chapter books, or adult fiction for equestrians, there’s a big beautiful publishing world waiting for you!

Let's talk about how to write horse books.
Let’s talk about how to write horse books.

You’ll find posts in this series on everything from how to ask for criticism (and not die of embarrassment/horror when you get it) to how to choose your book’s cover image. And anytime you have more questions about how to write a horse book, just ask! Leave a comment or send an email, and I’ll try to answer it for you.

Are you ready? Let’s start!

What is a Horse Book?

A horse book, in my definition, is a book about equestrian life. It can be a romance, a literary fiction, a mystery novel, or even a steampunk combination of all three of those things. What qualifies the book as a horse book is that it has scenarios and characters recognizable to the equestrian community.

I classify what I write as Equestrian Fiction. That means my books are written specifically for equestrians to understand and enjoy. I don’t spend a lot of time explaining equine terms, trusting that non-equestrian readers can judge what I’m talking about based on context, use Google to learn more, or simply move on and enjoy the story. I also write with an adult audience in mind, although I recognize that in the equestrian world, teens are often living very adult lives, so I consider them my audience, as well.

This genre didn’t always exist, and if you ask a big book retailer, it still doesn’t exist. That’s why Equestrian Fiction dominates non-fiction categories like Horse Care, and Equestrian Sports on Amazon. It’s just one of those things you’ll have to deal with if you write equestrian fiction: this genre boasts the most popular books for equestrians, but no real category.

That’s a gripe for another time.

Equestrian Fiction is growing by the month. Established writers are continuing their series, and new writers are showing up with fantastic reads. If you’re tempted to join the fun, this blog series is for you.

Here’s what you should know, first and foremost: there are a handful of highs and a truckload of lows when you write your first novel (and your second, and your third, and your fourth…) and when we’re marketing our books directly to our readers, we have no choice but to face the criticism head-on.

While some writers with major publishing deals can say lofty (and probably untrue, but whatever) things like, “I never read the reviews,” if you’re a new, independent writer sharing good reviews to try to drum up good press, you’re going to have to read the reviews.

All of them.

And some of them will make you cry.

That’s okay! Your dressage (hunter/jumper/western pleasure/fill-in-the-blank here) trainer has made you cry, but you still ride, right? We’re equestrians, so we’re used to pain equaling gain. We’re used to falling down, dusting ourselves up, and mounting again. Maybe that’s why we’re hanging on, growing, and actually thriving in such a difficult industry.

It’s just really hard to mash down a determined equestrian!

Writing for any audience is tough, but writing for equestrians is exceptionally challenging. In 2012, I interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley for the equestrian lifestyle site, Dappled Grey. Jane Smiley stormed into the equestrian scene with her massive racing/showing novel Horse Heaven, and became as common a barn name as any big name trainer. I remember working at the Ocala, Florida branch of Barnes & Noble when Horse Heaven was at its height. I was selling copies one after another to well-known hunter/jumper riders in town for HITS. I was actually star-struck by some of the luminaries who walked in and asked for the book by name.

But Horse Heaven, for all its popularity with the equestrian community and the wider world, didn’t get a follow-up. Instead, Smiley began a children’s series, beginning with The Georges and the Jewels, which taught excellent horsemanship, but didn’t get into the complicated and very adult lives of modern riders, trainers, and owners in the racing and showing business–something I loved because it reflected the world I lived in so beautifully.

So I asked Smiley, why did she stop writing equestrian novels for adults, when Horse Heaven was such a hit with her own crowd?

Here’s what Jane Smiley told me about writing equestrian fiction:

“The horse audience will toss the book out of the window if the voice isn’t expert. The audience isn’t big, and they’re critical, although they’re enthusiastic when they’ve committed. Sometimes you can make it work and sometimes you can’t. It’s not an easy audience to write for.”

Imagine writing huge multi-generational trilogies, imagine winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and having your novels turned into movies, and then finding equestrians too picky an audience to continue writing for. That’s what you’re up against when you decide to write a horse book.

But that’s okay. There are ways around this. There are ways to find your voice. There are ways to prove yourself to your audience. And that’s what we’re going to talk about in this blog series.

Watch this space for a post each week on writing horse books. Feel free to chime in, comment, and ask questions. Send me an email if you don’t want to go public with your writing aspirations; I promise confidentiality. Let’s talk about writing. Because honestly? I want to read your books. I write for this genre because eight years ago, sitting at my computer, I realized that all I wanted to read was more Horse Heaven. And no one was writing it.

So I wrote the book I wanted to read.

I’ve come a long way since my first novella, The Head and Not The Heart. I’ve made it through bad reviews and good, vicious emails and heart-warming messages, and even found myself in Lexington, Kentucky accepting runner-up at one of America’s richest book prizes before flying to Pimlico for a festival-day book-signing. I’ve spoken about the horse in fiction at Equine Affaire. I’ve been invited to work on conference proposals exploring animals in literature. It’s an exciting adventure, being an equestrian fiction author. I never know what’s going to arrive in my inbox next.

I love my writing life; I’m grateful for my writing life, which readers grant me every day when they choose to read my novels, and I want to encourage, nurture, inspire, and help new writers join the ranks in any way I can.

Let’s talk horse books, and writing them, together. I think this is going to be a good time.

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