First Read: The Hidden Horses of New York

Hidden Horses of New York release graphic

Have you heard the news? My newest equestrian novel, The Hidden Horses of New York, is now available for pre-sale on Amazon! If you’re waiting for the paperback, you can order it along with the Kindle edition’s download date on November 26, 2019. I’m thrilled to share this story of friendship, the equestrian community, equine welfare and yes, a little romance with you. To get you started, here are the first thousand words of The Hidden Horses of New York.

Hidden Horses of New York release graphic
Click here to order your copy!

Jenny jiggled the lead-shank to distract the three-year-old colt tugging at the other end, and tried to ignore the phone buzzing in her back pocket. Her mother’s gaze, sharp and unforgiving, caught hers from across the saddling ring, and Jenny felt the force of her warning: don’t touch that phone while you’ve got hold of a horse. It was one of Andrea Wolfe’s most ferociously-enforced rules. Once, she had taken a rider’s phone right out of his hands and thrown it with the power and grace of a pitcher. The phone had landed in the cattail-choked drainage ditch running along the inside of Sugar Creek Farm’s training track and was never seen again.

“Settle,” Jenny hissed at the colt, who rolled one wild eyeball at her and flared his nostrils, tossing his head towards her face. For an instant her vision was a blur of black skin, ringed inside with red. The colt’s sleek coat was graying out slowly, his neck and body spangled with white-ringed dapples and his mane a cloud of black. Jenny remembered when he’d been born, a fox-colored colt blinking owlishly through spectacles of pale hair, a dead giveaway that this pretty little chestnut would grow up to be a gray.

Jenny jerked back to the present and gave the lead-shank in her hands a tug to remind him not to get so personal. The colt straightened out and they kept on walking in their tight circles, using every inch of the space they’d been allotted. The walking ring of Tampa Bay Downs was tight; the little crowd of spectators pressing in so closely that Jenny was sometimes afraid even the rail keeping them back from the horses was still not far enough away to protect them from a kick. As a rule, hot-blooded young Thoroughbreds were not malicious. But they were in a hurry to get moving, and indiscriminate with where their flying hooves ended up.

Jenny’s phone was buzzing again, furiously rattling against the thin chest pocket on the flowing blue blouse she’d paired with her race-day khakis. She desperately wanted to answer it, wanted to see her friends’ silly faces and hear their stupid voices so much, and she was crazy to find out what had happened with their final presentation, if Professor Mulvaney thought their idea was any good or if they were just a bunch of idealistic kids (which Jenny did not think was a bad thing, not yet). They needed his buy-in if they were going to get anywhere. Lana’s father had been determined on that point. He wasn’t giving them a dime otherwise.

The loudspeakers crackled as if they were clearing their metallic throats, and then the feed from the track’s resident commentator took over the sound of jingling metal and thudding hooves. He was standing near the paddock with his back to the horses, a small burly man in a three-piece suit that strained at the arms, wraparound sunglasses and gel-stiffened blonde hair competing with his swirling tribal neck tattoos for attention. Jenny always thought he looked like a cross between a professional skateboarder and Guy Fieri. He spoke, with a thick Long Island accent, about past performances and speed figures and jockey win percentages. When he got to Mr. November, he just said: “this one is the favorite for a reason, but if you want to beat him, try the three and the six,” and then continued on with the next horse.

Jenny ran a hand along Mister’s hot neck. They weren’t going to beat him—not the three, not the six, not any of the other horses circling the paddock. His dark eye met hers, and suddenly Jenny forgot about her phone, and the conversation she was missing in New York right now. This happened before every race. Jenny would live entirely in the moment for the next fifteen minutes: the moment she handed Mister off to the outrider, the moment she caught him after his race, the moment she led him into the winner’s circle.

Today was Mister’s day.

She smiled at him, the sounds of the horseplayers dissipating around her.

Then he ducked his chin backwards and tried to bite her, his eyes bright with mischief, and she was wrenched back to reality. “No,” she huffed. “You’re bad. Don’t do it again!”

Mister pushed hard against the bit in his mouth, grinding his teeth. The movement tugged at her joints, made her wince as she pulled back. He was so ready, so painfully ready. Why wasn’t it time to mount up yet? She looked to the center of the ring. Her mother was there, talking to the jockey, a slim-hipped young man who was having a very good year. It had been easy to convince him to ride Mister in the colt’s first big stakes challenge. Everyone knew the colt was peaking. No one knew it better than Jenny. Because while the line for owner was always filled in with “Sugar Creek Farm,” Mr. November’s real owner had always been Jenny Wolfe. He was the last good thing she’d done before she’d gone away to school, and the one good thing she’d returned for, over and over again. Bred by Jenny, foaled by Jenny, halter-broke by Jenny, started under saddle by Jenny. She’d done it all over winter holidays, spring breaks, summer vacations, and long weekends. She’d hurried home from a cold, snowy New York to a warm March evening when his birth seemed imminent, despite her mother’s tired reminders that there was no telling when the mare might actually foal. And early that morning, as a storm blew through the open rafters overhead, her colt had been born.

The new foal had blinked at her from his damp bed of straw and then promptly bit her, all gums and tiny milk teeth closed tight on her hand, and Jenny had laughed and told him, “you’re the one, you’re my Mister November,” and he’d been Mister every day since then.

Jenny’s mother had disapproved of naming a wobbling newborn colt for a race three and a half years (and a solid mountain of luck) away. “There are thirty-six foals due on this farm alone, thousands all around Ocala, and you’re pinning all of your Breeders’ Cup hopes on this one?”

But Mister was Jenny’s hope, not the farm’s hope or her mother’s hope. And she thought Mr. November was a fine name for a colt she planned to point at the world racing championships, held in November each year. “Plus he looks like a Mister,” Jenny added. “With those little spectacles of his.”

“Those will be gone in two months,” her mother snorted, but she left it alone after that.

Three years ago, Jenny thought, her hand still on the taut muscles running along Mister’s arching neck. Three years ago, he’d stood no higher than her waist. And now he was this big beast, this monstrous colt with muscles toned into the airstream lines of an Art Deco locomotive, coat spangled with white stars like the iron-gray sky the morning before a hurricane, taut skin and flowing raven mane and dark, intelligent eyes that landed on Jenny the moment she entered his field of vision and never left her until she was gone again, back to wherever Jenny went when she left Mister behind.

“Riders up!” the ring steward called, raising his clipboard in the air like a ceremonial flag. As if released from taut strings, the jockeys and trainers dispersed in every direction, flowing toward their mounts in a wave of bright pageantry.

Want to read more? Get the rest of the first chapter – just email me here: natalie @ nataliekreinert.com (remove the spaces). I’ll send you the entire first chapter of The Hidden Horses of New York as a sneak peek!

Ready to order? Get your copy at Amazon!

The Hidden Horses of New York book cover

 

New Book Release: The Hidden Horses of New York

The Hidden Horses of New York book cover

Friends, I’m so excited about today’s news!

I’ve officially given The Hidden Horses of New York its publication date of November 26, 2019, and I just can’t wait to share it with you. This book means the world to me.

The Hidden Horses of New York, publishing November 26, 2019

Last year, I was brooding about my “millennial horse racing story” that I wanted to write. I knew I wanted to tell the story of a band of friends who were young, idealistic, and wanted to change horse racing for the better. They were going to do it through social media and the internet. And that’s… that’s all I knew.

It took more than a year to pull together the concept that became The Hidden Horses of New York. It took more than three beginnings (all of them beautiful, in my opinion) in three different voices and multiple points of view. It went from being a multi-POV to a single narrator, but one thing that didn’t change: the main character, Jenny.

Jenny is young, idealistic, shy, ambitious. A horsewoman who ran away from her horsey home to see what else she could be. Who fell in love with New York and the friends she made there. Who found a way, against all odds, to remain an equestrian in the greatest city in the world.

Who was hopelessly in love with her best friend.

I adore Jenny, and walking in her shoes to write this story has been such an emotional ride. I’ve cried, I’ve felt the wind against my cheeks, I’ve nestled down under a soft blanket in her chilly apartment. I have felt at one with Jenny more than any other character I’ve ever written. I know everything about her, I know the pictures hanging on the walls of her childhood bedroom, I know the books on her coffee table, I know the cereal boxes in her kitchen cabinet.

Those who know me will read this book and know I’ve shared some of my most remarkable life experiences with Jenny, and that’s not a gift I share lightly. I’ve jealously guarded some of these storylines, waiting for the right moment to give them up to the world. I believe I’ve found that moment.

And the cover! Oh, the agonies over this cover, friends. I wanted Jenny’s story to stand apart. I am proud of my book covers, but I needed something different for this one. I worked for days until I had a concept, then I realized I didn’t have the technical know-how to bring it to life.

Enter How Bowers, a wonderful friend who offered his time to turn my dream into a reality. And look at the beauty he has created! I’m so, so thankful for his expertise and dedication to my concept.

The Hidden Horses of New York book cover

This is the story idea, in a few words, for the book:

Jenny’s a horsewoman, born and bred. Aidan’s a photographer, with a passion for sleek thoroughbreds. Lana has business brains and start-up cash. Together, they’re going to bring horse racing’s best stories to life. Best friends working on a passion project together: it could be the perfect post-grad life in New York City… if only Jenny weren’t hopelessly in love with Aidan.

Unrequited love aside, Jenny might be in over her head. It’s not an easy task to get old-fashioned trainers to open up to her, but Jenny’s determined to get her story. Then, as she digs deep in search of a missing horse, Jenny tumbles into a dark underworld she’d thought was just a fairy tale.

In the pursuit of horse racing’s happy endings, to say nothing of her own, Jenny will find herself tested again and again. A colt’s bid for a Breeders’ Cup championship, a racehorse with no name, a charming police mount on Amsterdam Avenue, a carriage horse clattering through Central Park: the horses of New York are clamoring to have their stories told. Jenny just has to find the words, and the courage, to give them a voice.

There’s a lot more to this story than what I could wedge in >200 words, but here we are.

And here we go.

I’m so thrilled to share The Hidden Horses of New York with you. I only hope you love it as much as I do.

Pre-order here, and share this link with your horsey friends: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZS5P1JJ/

 

Ordering Signed Books from Natalie Keller Reinert

signed horse books

As the holiday season approaches, I frequently get requests for signed books. Makes sense! Signed books make amazing Christmas presents. My unique equestrian fiction novels in particular are perfect for riding instructors, barn owners and farm managers, trainers and coaches, horse show moms and basically anyone else who loves horses. Or books. You get the idea.

It’s always hard for me to fulfill late-season signing requests so I’m really excited that this year the amazing Taborton Equine Books are going to handle some of that for me!

Equine Affaire book signing 2018
Signing mountains of books at Equine Affaire 2018!

In conjunction with our Equine Affaire book-signing (in W. Springfield, MA on November 8-9, 2019), signed books are now available to order online, directly from the bookseller. I’ll sign your book at the event — you’ll get the book in the mail afterwards!

So whether you just want a signed copy of Ambition for your bookshelf, or your working student is going to squee when she gets a copy of Horses of Wonderland for Christmas, right now is the perfect time to get your signed book ordered!

As for me, I’ll be icing my hand in between signings at the Equine Affaire table. Between the in-person demand and the online orders, I am going to have a lot of books to sign!

Get your books signed by me (and ten other authors) at Taborton Equine Books’ 2019 Signed Books page.

Here’s everyone who will be attending the Equine Affaire book-signing event, by the way!

equine affaire book signing 2019
Equine Affaire 2019 in W. Springfield, MA!

Riding Life: Ben and the Tortoise

Ben grazing

I haven’t written about my riding in a hot minute, and since that’s where my blogging (and fiction) days began, I thought: today’s ride definitely deserves a blog post. You see, everything looked so promising. Everything started out so well.

And then, Florida happened.

THE TALE OF THE TORTOISE AND THE BEN

At my old farm out in swamp country, I had an issue with alligators. Well, one alligator. He (gender assumed but not determined for convenience’s sake) was about four and half feet long, enjoyed long swims in the pond at the back of my property, and had reflective eyes which were handy for late-night horse feeding. We just always remembered to swing a flashlight around and check for the gator’s presence before we went into the back pasture to dump grain.

Then the alligator discovered my round pen, which was only about twenty feet from the pond, was the perfect place for midday sunbathing.

Really annoying.

Nowadays I ride at a farm in hilly country. There isn’t a pond, so there isn’t an alligator. But since I ride Ben in a bright, sunny field adjacent to un-mown hay fields and half-wooded cow pastures, I have other animals I have to deal with.

Ben in a big hay field
Looking across the hay fields from the mown area where we ride. There is a lot of animal life out there.

Ben is a very alert pony. He likes to keep his eye on things — there’s very much a protect-the-herd instinct going on in between those pricked ears of his. He watches people walking around the farm while we’re riding, and he has a decent spook when something really surprises him, but he’s not as likely to run away from something as to stop and stare at it, maybe edge closer to it for a better look.

Think of a little kid poking something dead with a stick, then leaping backwards when it moves a little bit, then coming back to poke it again… that’s Ben.

At first we had an issue with grass snakes spooking him, but I kept riding him towards the little buggers and he decided that was fun, so now he just looks at snakes and doesn’t flip out about them. The tortoise problem… well, that’s been harder to solve.

If the best way to desensitize a horse is to ride them right up to whatever is alarming them and let them take a good look, it’s almost impossible to desensitize a horse to a gopher tortoise. These are big dry-land, burrowing tortoises who can move at a decent clip. They have beige-to-brown shells which aren’t shiny, but stand out against green grass. And because they have a sort of shambling, two-beat walk, they move a bit like, well, spiders?

So you have this thing that looks like a rounded rock, moves like a spider, and goes barreling across the field. If you can convince your horse to go take a look at it, the tortoise retreats into his shell. It’s just a rock. The horse forgets about it. You ride away. The rock-spider-demon comes back to life. The horse sees this in his rear-view mirror and freaks the eff out. IT IS MOVING! IT WASN’T MOVING BEFORE!

You ride back, to show the horse the moving rock. Only now it stops moving again. The horse loses interest.

Guys, you can do this ALL DAMN DAY, but the tortoise will always thwart your efforts.

It’s a problem.

So today I take Ben out to ride and I see that there is a tortoise in the very middle of the field. I sigh. I cannot chase the tortoise out of the field, for reasons previously mentioned. So I take Ben over to a hill and we do a little hill-work while I wait for the tortoise to get through the field.

This takes ages because the tortoise is not in a hurry, but finally he’s at the end of the field near his burrow and I say, fine, Ben, let’s go do some work.

Now, a lot of the work I do with Ben is concentrated on getting him to be cool and focused, because I want children to be happy to ride him (he is a large pony, after all). So we do a lot of walking work – about fifteen minutes most days – before we even begin trotwork.

Today the BLOODY TORTOISE is hovering near his burrow, which is under a bush at the end of the field, and doesn’t want to go in. And just as I want to start trotting, Ben sees the tortoise.

He does a little half-rear before I catch him, then I push him forward towards the tortoise while he watches, snorting. I let him come to a halt so he can have a good look.

The tortoise gazes at us. He is literally right outside his burrow. Two steps, and he could be underground and out of our hair. But no, he wants to stare us down.

“GET BACK IN YOUR HOLE YOU STUPID TORTOISE!” I command, with some expletives for extra emphasis, but the tortoise is unimpressed.

Ben has his head up and his ears pricked but he’s not freaking out, so I send him forward. Let’s chase the tortoise into the hole! He can’t possibly resist going into his burrow if we’re bearing down on him like a one-horse cavalry charge, right?

Right.. eventually, but that tortoise makes us get really close before he scurries underground. Ben is huffing. I am annoyed. It’s going to take me another five or ten minutes to bring him back down to earth and get a relaxed walk again. I turn Ben away and we do a circuit of the field.

As we turn at the top of the field, I realize the tortoise HAS COME BACK OUT OF THE BURROW.

“Oh, no, you don’t! Let’s get him, Ben!” I send Ben forward and we chase the tortoise back underground. Ben finds all of this tortoise-chasing exhilarating and is now looking for other scary things to chase. Maybe there is something scary in the woods! LET’S STARE AT THE WOODS! Maybe there is something scary at the house! OH GOD A PERSON HAS COME OUT OF THE HOUSE! SHIT, WHAT DO WE DO?

“Jesus Christ, Ben,” I say, again along with some other expletives for extra emphasis.

It keeps happening. Apparently the tortoise was only making a quick house-call, not retreating to safety, and now I cannot keep the stupid animal out of my field. I just want twenty minutes to do some trotting and get Ben to relax into the bridle, but the tortoise comes out and cuts across the bottom half of the field, then proceeds to start grazing. I cannot chase him now; he’s too far from the burrow and he’ll just go into his shell if we get near him. Ben is mostly unbothered; he doesn’t see him, but I’ve lost half my riding space.

Another ten minutes goes by before the tortoise has ambled with its awful spider shamble into the high grass of the hay field and I finally have my riding area back.

But Ben doesn’t know the tortoise has gone off on a nature walk. He keeps looking at the burrow at the edge of the field. IF IT COMES BACK OUT, I, BEN, WILL BE READY!

“It’s not coming back.”

THAT’S WHAT IT WANTS YOU TO THINK!

He never really got over his desire to trample the tortoise. We did some nice trotting, some lateral work and some canter circles, and even jumped a few cross-rails, but he was always keeping an eye on that burrow. There was nothing fearful about his attitude. He just didn’t want to miss his chance. He had a taste of tortoise-chasing and by god, he wanted more.

Ben grazing
“If that tortoise comes out, I will find him and I will stomp him.”

Even after I turned him out, an hour later, he was on high alert, looking all around the pasture as if tortoises were hiding in the tree branches, waiting for him to drop his guard.

I love Ben’s hilarious macho man antics, his bantam rooster approach to life. He’s fun to ride and work with for exactly that reason. There’s so much of Ben. He’s the embodiment of that old classified ad verbiage, “personality plus.”

I’m just really, really glad this farm doesn’t have a pond. because I don’t need him to start thinking he can chase away gators.

 

Fall Comes to Florida

October is here! I love October. I’ve never liked September, not for a single moment, but October is lovely and I’m here to tell you why.

First, October is when fall comes to Florida. How can you tell it’s fall? The light, for one thing, and that’s not the bit I like–I love the bright, white light of summer. The shifting light of September makes me think of short days and long nights and school starting (I have almost no good memories of school, so anything I associate with going back to school is a negative). But the light’s an indicator that the weather is changing–the steeper sun angle means less humidity, fewer afternoon thunderstorms, and, best of all, cooler nights.

horse hiding behind a tree
Ben hides behind a tree as the golden October sunset approaches.

Oh, those cooler nights! I don’t remember summer nights in the 80s when I was a kid, but I grew up along the coast, and now I live inland, and it gets so hot here. Orlando summer nights stick in the 80s and you just want to melt. Honestly, I should not want a shower after walking my dog at ten o’clock at night. But here we are… and then October comes, and the temperature drops into the 60s at night, and it’s magical.

Then there’s the breeze. Here’s a fun thing about Florida: every season is breezy except for summer. In summer, we sit and wait for the sea breeze to make it inland… with mixed results. Sometimes in late September, the breeze picks up something fierce, and it sticks around for the most part until April.

When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike everywhere. We lived on a grid; our street went east/west and so did plenty of my friends’ streets. One night I was playing Trivial Pursuit with my parents. The question was about the equinox: when are the equinoxes, or something to that effect. I was maybe eight or nine, I didn’t know what the word equinox meant. But the months April and September stuck out to me. It was always so windy in those months!

I guessed; I was right; there was general wonderment. I explained that it was extremely hard to ride my bike in April and September because of the wind. Maybe the wind was the equinox, I reasoned.

I don’t know if the wind is directly or indirectly related to the equinox, but it’s definitely when the weather starts to shift towards or away from our summer rainy season.

And while I miss the rainy season, when I have a horse to ride, I can celebrate the beginning of riding season! It’s surprisingly pleasant to ride a horse on a 90-degree day when the humidity is only 60% instead of 85% (with that lovely breeze, of course). This part might be hard to explain to out-of-staters, but you’ll have to trust me on this.

I can bump my rides up from thirty minutes to sixty minutes. I can ride any time of day, with plenty of walking breaks, instead of only before ten a.m. or only after six p.m. I am almost never racing lightning bolts back to the barn. I don’t have to give a bath with plenty of tea tree oil mixed into the shampoo after every single ride, because when the rain goes away, so do the tiny flies and the skin bacteria issues.

Riding a horse at sunset
Riding into the fall sunset.

Oh, fall is a magical time in Florida!

Now don’t get me wrong: there are drawbacks. I miss the lightning and the thunder and the tropical downpours and the towering clouds and the singing frogs–I miss them something fierce. I have already mentioned that the slanting fall light makes me feel the opposite of nostalgic. And all that wind? Well, have you ridden a horse on a windy day? Enough said.

But all of that aside, I’m glad it’s fall. I’m ready for our first cold front, our first chilly night, the first day I get to wear jeans. I’m excited for all the riding I’m going to fit in, and the running too, because I’ve only been running once or twice a week over the summer.

When I was a kid, rainy season seemed to last half the year. Now I know it’s only four and a half months in a good year, and it was only three months this year, thanks to weird hurricane activity. It’s weird to imagine that we’re months and months away from storm season and summer, from the big glowing clouds and the sizzling sounds of cicadas in the trees and the late-night croaks of frogsong. When I think of Florida, when I’m far away, those are the pieces my mind conjures up.

But really, most of the year in Florida is just like October: golden days, blue skies, a steady breeze, and a hot, hot sun.

It’s not a bad place to call home.

But Florida doesn’t have much by way of fall leaves, so I go up north for that. I’ll be in Massachusetts next month for Equine Affaire in West Springfield! I go just about every year and hang out with my good friends at Taborton Equine Books. Come see me on either Friday or Saturday — I’d love to chat, get to know you, sign your books, or maybe help you find your next great read!

Find out more and RSVP at Facebook!

Autumn Meet-Up at Equine Affaire 2019

It’s that time of year again!

I love going to Equine Affaire. Yes, it’s Massachusetts in November, which is… chilly. But it’s charming! The autumn leaves, the colonial towns, the SNOW FLURRIES (that totally happened last year). For me, a Floridian, it’s a wow.

Plus, Equine Affaire brings together so many horse people in one place. It’s an equestrian fun fair.

Equine Affaire 2019

Every year my wonderful friends at Taborton Equine Books invite me to sign books and meet up with readers at their fantastic bookshop. Taborton is THE equestrian bookseller, with shelves and shelves of every sort of horse book, from classic children’s stories to the newest training manuals — and, of course, my favorite, equestrian fiction! If you love the pleasure of perusing bookshelves instead of skimming Amazon listings, you can’t miss this store.

Come and see me on Friday from 4 to 7 PM or on Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM (I’ll be sneaking away for lunch around noon, but I’ll be back). If you already have one of my books, bring it along to be signed. If you need to pick up a paperback, Taborton will have some! But be warned, last year they sold out of Ambition before my Saturday set was over!

I’d love to chat with you, meet some new friends, and definitely catch up IRL with all of you fantastic social media friends.

This year’s Equine Affaire is November 7-11, 2019, at the Eastern States Expo in West Springfield, Massachusetts. Will I see you there?

RSVP at my Facebook Page here!

Don’t Hate the Side-Hustle

The side-hustle is getting a lot of grief these days.

Having a side-gig is getting blamed for everything from millennial burn-out to the accusation that we’re turning our hobbies into jobs because of online/offline peer pressure (and thus hating our hobbies for being our jobs).

And while it’s true the entrepreneurial mood right now is focused on eradicating the toxic “always be hustling” culture we were taught to adore in the first fifteen years of this awful new century, the fact is, gigs and hustles and multiple hats are part of our culture and our economy now. Let’s be real: we live in a very disappointing simulation most of the time. Ah, 2019: wage stagnation, financial inequality, and an expectation that if we need anything in an emergency, or even the very basics of healthcare, a for-profit corporation will handle it… providing your job still fits into their latest business plan. We should be so lucky as to have a passion we can monetize, if that’s our society’s status quo.

So don’t hate the gig economy, hate the game — then learn to play it well. Start off by knowing thy enemy: it’s not the work.

Photo: Brianna Santellan/Unsplash

The root cause of both burn-out and of hating your passion-turned-job is a lack of balance, not simply the monetization of hobbies.

Cross-stitch pattern "don't quit your day dream"
Photo: Brianna Santellan/Unsplash

Here’s the thing: there is nothing more important than work-life balance. While it’s really common to get burn-out just from working your nine-to-five, it’s also true that side-hustles, even the ones you are passionate about, can easily upend whatever tenuous grasp you might have had on work-life balance–especially when they’re added to a nine-to-five day.

When I was working a full-time job and writing fiction and freelancing and trying to ride just a couple of days per week, my life was a series of precariously balanced appointments, with meticulously monitored commute times to make it all possible.

I had to give up freelancing, but even that wasn’t enough. I barely had the energy to write anything after work, I didn’t have time to work out so I could feel healthy and good about myself, and getting to the barn was an exercise in resilience and not going crazy in traffic jams.

One person calling “Hey Natalie, quick question?” from the office next to mine at 4:03 PM was enough to mean that, fifteen minutes later, I was sadly slogging out to my car to drive home, knowing I wasn’t going to get to ride that night. It was absolutely important that I stick to my timetable, from leaving my apartment at 7:20 AM to beat morning traffic, to getting out at by 4:10 to almost beat evening traffic. A few minutes’ diversion either way meant an extra 20 minutes or more of time stuck in the car, while daylight waned. (Orlando notoriously has some of the worst traffic in the country, so that was part of it.)

I don’t know if keeping to that strict timetable was work-life balance or a slowly soul-numbing descent into hell, but either way, once my full-time job was over, I realized I didn’t have to clock-watch in order to get to the things I loved. So I turned back to my passions and sorted out what parts of them I could monetize (or in some cases, hyper-monetize) and found actual control over my day. It is my day, after all.

It’s all about balance. Photo: Thomas Peham/Unsplash

Of course, there’s work to be done at balancing all of my side-hustles, turning my work day into one big succession of hustles.

At first I asked: can I write for a certain website I enjoy writing for and produce a novel in 90 days and pick up a freelance social media campaign and plan travel and teach riding lessons and have a family life? It turns out that no, I can’t. I’ve been back in the hustle life for less than two months and I’ve already had to make some adjustments to my expectations of myself. I had to do some calculations, figure out the ROI on the work I was doing, and choose to prioritize the work paying the highest ROI and eliminate the work paying the lowest.

As a result, I’ve now completed the first draft of a novel in record time (six weeks, thank you for asking!), booked some very cool vacations for some very cool people, started teaching riding lessons so we can rock a new generation of horsey kids, started working out (I can run three miles now without stopping, thank you for asking!), and spend what is probably too much time with my family, no seriously, I think they are tired of me.

And what I love most? This can change. I can change this up tomorrow. I could add a freelance gig, pick up a part-time job so that I can remember how to interact with other humans, jump on a contract and work in an office for a few months making something cool happen, write another book, write a series of short stories, start a podcast (okay that probably won’t make any money) — but the point is, my life is mix-and-match right now, and I’m running around the candy shop, picking my favorite flavors.

Let your hobby earn you some breathing room. Let your passions run your life. Let your side-hustles give you new meaning.

Just keep it balanced. You can do this.

The Internet gives us the opportunity to market ourselves with almost no effort. Want to sell your dressage-themed cross-stitch pillows, but don’t have time to market them? Start an Instagram and a Facebook, and spend an hour on Saturday evening scheduling posts for the week while you’re ignoring Netflix. (You’re on your phone anyway.) Tag some horsey influencers and ask if you can mail them a couple. There, you did some marketing for the week. No craft shows, no tack shop cold calls, no fuss. Now you can get back to ignoring Netflix in peace.

The gig economy is here and we can let it empower us, or we can let it burn us out. What we can’t do is deny it exists, and that it’s taking over our lives. How are you going to hustle it?

PS: if you’re marketing dressage cross-stitch pillows, I want to see them. And if you’re making something awesome – contact me! I’m going to start a monthly feature on equestrians with side-hustles!

5 Questions with Equestrian Author L.R. Trovillion

So, here’s the thing. I love social media, because it’s given me a chance to meet wonderful people (like you, probably!) but we have to admit it, there’s a flaw in its design. All of those short sentences and catchy captions don’t give us nearly enough time to really get to know each other!

For that, I think it’s time to get back to blogs. Make a cup of tea, set aside some time to read, and enjoy some stories from people we’d like to get to know better–I think we could all use that once in a while! So without further ado, let’s start with Five Questions for author L.R. Trovillion.

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Writer L.R. Trovillion creates compelling Young Adult and Equestrian Fiction

Trovillion is the author of the new Young Adult – Equestrian Fiction novel Horse Godsand previously released False Godsboth set in Maryland’s equestrian community.

Her books get great reviews with readers, who love her fast-paced, tightly-woven plots about teenage girls who find purpose and courage through equestrian life.

If you love coming-of-age stories (and who doesn’t, really) and a well-written story with plenty of horses in it, these books belong on your list.

I asked L.R. Trovillion five questions about her latest novel, her writing life, and her craft. Let’s go!

Hello! Thank you for being my debut subject for Five Questions!

First of all, thank you, Natalie, for giving me this opportunity to speak with you and for hosting me on your blog.

You have a new book! Tell us a little about Horse Gods and your inspiration for this story.

The story grew out of a unique experience. A friend invited me to accompany him and his hawk out hunting. When this bird of prey lifted off his arm to the treetops, I was amazed that it did not just fly away, free. That really got me thinking…

Freya the hawk
Freya, the inspiration for an avian character in Horse Gods

The sequel, Horse Gods, picks up the story of a new main character, Regina Hamilton. Her abusive mother, who we met in the first book, False Gods, is getting out of prison and Regina has only a few months to figure out how she can avoid having to live with her. As a minor, she doesn’t have too many options.

She falls into an opportunity at an elite dressage barn (even though she’s a jumper rider!) to work as a resident working student, if she can prove herself.

But things at this barn are not what they seem, and before long Regina finds herself in a dangerous situation. (No spoilers).

What made you decide to begin writing equestrian fiction?

L.R. Trovillion on horseback
L.R. Trovillion fits in plenty of real-life riding for her inspiration

Horses are the inspiration. I only started riding as an adult when I had a job that would support boarding and lessons, but I never looked back!

To help defray some costs, I worked as a groom for a hunter/jumper rider, which gave me a unique view into the world of big-time horse shows.

Later, my interests gravitated to dressage. I believe there is a certain magic in the horse-human connection and I hope to capture a little bit of it in my stories.

Horse Gods blends a lot of topics – you’ve got hawking, dressage, Irish mythology, and parents in prison, among other things. Was it hard to keep your plot in order and not lose any threads?

Ha, ha! I’ll have to let my readers answer that question, but I certainly hope I didn’t lose any threads! Yes, there’s a lot going on, but the various topics are all held together by one central theme—trust. The hawk, the wild mare, the Irish myths that surround Regina all symbolize various needs for and levels of trust. You see, Regina has no one to lean on, no one to help her (she thinks), and so has always just relied on herself. As she grapples with one problem after another, she slowly discovers how to trust in others as well. But that trust in people is severely tested in the end.

Can you tell us a little about your writing craft – how you schedule your time, how you plan your stories, that sort of thing?

Horse Gods ebook cover
Horse Gods, L.R. Trovillion’s new YA/Equestrian Fiction release

I would like to say that I am very disciplined and sit down to write for a set period of time every day, but that would be a lie! So often I sit down to write and a million other tasks feel suddenly more pressing—‘Oh, maybe I should clean out the closet instead!’

When I do knuckle down to write, at the beginning of a novel, I get a germ of a story idea and start building the characters around it. I like to take a main character, give her a big problem, strip her of all outside support from family or conventional means, and set her loose to make bad decisions and see what happens. Secondary characters sort of turn up on the pages and some of them become quite interesting and get to be the main character in the next book. (Spoiler: Main character in book 3 is Willow).

Sounds quite haphazard, doesn’t it? I do usually have the beginning and the end destination planned, but that whole messy middle part is sometimes surprising even to me.

What’s on your 2019 reading list? Have you read anything amazing this year?

I am fortunate to belong to a book club, which has been together for about 23 years. In that time, I have been introduced to so many amazing books, often ones I would not have picked out for myself.

Recently, one of my favorites was A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I was a Russian language and literature major in college and this book captured so beautifully the culture, history, and mood of that time in Russia. Plus, I absolutely fell in love with the main character, Count Rostov! As for horse fiction, I’d have to say an all time favorite is Horse Heaven by the master storyteller, Jane Smiley.

I also love to read a lot of Young Adult. I really enjoyed The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon for her brilliant and edgy characters and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for amazing world building. On my list: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow. But I’m open to other suggestions!

Really solid choices. I love Amor Towles’ first book Rules of Civility, and A Gentleman in Moscow has been on my list for ages. And of course, Horse Heaven, I’ve been very open about how much I love that one!

***

Thanks to L.R. Trovillion for that excellent look inside her books and writing process. I especially love the idea of taking a character, stripping her of help, and seeing what she’ll do next. My process is generally to take a character, give her an opportunity, then think about all the awful consequences. Either way, you can’t have a story without being well-versed in a certain kind of worst-case scenario thought process!

So, I highly recommend you take a look at L.R. Trovillion’s fantastic equestrian fiction novels. You can find them at Amazon, or visit her website for more information. On Twitter? Follow for updates and new blog posts about equestrian life: @lrtrovillion

Have you read L.R. Trovillion’s work? Do you have a question for her, or a recommendation? Be sure to comment below!

Why Blogging Matters – So You Want to Write a Horse Book: Part Three

When you’re getting ready to write a horse book, it’s important to get one major hurdle out of the way first:

Your thin skin.

Look, we’re all pretty tough. We’re horse-people. We’re used to getting beat up and dragged around — both physically and mentally.

But you have to be ready to take some heat when you publish your first book. (And all of your other books.) Because even if you write the best book in the world (and I have no doubt you have it in you), you are going to deal with the following:

  1. Reviews from people who hate your book because it doesn’t do what they wanted it to do.
  2. Reviews from people who hate your book because they hate ALL first-person books, third-person books, books with swear words, books with children, books with adults, books with German Shepherds, books with anything at all that they could have figured out your book would contain just by reading the description or by reading the free first page on Amazon, and yet which somehow they decided to read anyway.
  3. Reviews from people who didn’t read your book but just think it sounds awful.
  4. General meanness which was never meant for your eyes, but which you saw anyway because you dutifully set up your Google Alerts and followed them to a message board where you should not be.
White horse in shadows
Life in the (sort-of) spotlight can be a little scary. Step into it a few paces at a time.

Now, with the wonders of blogging, you can experience all the meanness the Internet has to offer AND set up a support system of people you can email/text/snap/maybe even get a coffee with if you actually live in the same region, all before you’ve got a book out. Sounds great, right?

It actually is. Remember, I started out by blogging. In 2008 (?) I was blogging about my farm, and making a lot of blogging friends. In 2010 I started Retired Racehorse Blog with the idea of chronicling the OTTB training experience. I asked a large retirement agency if they would sponsor it or house it on their site and they had to say no, because of the possible backlash if someone didn’t like a training method I used.

Wasn’t that a good warning, friends?

I went after Retired Racehorse Blog anyway, and admittedly, I didn’t receive a lot of criticism for it. I got some, especially when I got away from training and went into more philosophical state-of-the-industry posts. I had some warmblood people gang up on me — one of those situations where you should really read the cover description before you buy the book. But that’s okay. I was learning how to share my writing and my opinions without being afraid (or, at least, being TOO afraid) of negative response.

And while I was building up my courage to publish a work of fiction, I was also making friends. I don’t want to call it an audience, because blogs are free and books are not (usually) which makes them two different animals. It does help, however, to have a thousand blog readers when you publish a book. You might sell ten books in your first month, and this will be good for your self-esteem.

I made friends who regularly read my blog, and I regularly read their blogs. We met up on Facebook. We met up on Twitter. We met up on Instagram. We met up in real life. Some of them are fellow authors with me now, and we support one another. We have someone to email when we see a review so mean or misguided that we’re one whiskey away from clicking “reply” on Amazon and GoodReads (AKA author social suicide, don’t do it).

Blog Topics:

So let’s say you’re going to start a blog. What’s it going be about?

The great thing about blogs, in my opinion, is that they can be about absolutely nothing. I mean this in the most Seinfeld of ways. I watch a lot of Seinfeld. It’s about daily life in New York, which is everything and nothing all at once. The same thing can be said of barn life. If you have a horse, whether at home or at a boarding barn, you have instant blog material. There are probably hundreds of fairly well-read blogs which are just about daily barn life. They’re more fun than training blogs, which have to be written in a fairly clever style to keep them from getting dry.

The other great thing about slice-of-life blog posts is that they teach you to find the story in everything. You start looking at the world through different eyes, picking up on potential for full stories in the scenes around you. A girl walking out to the pasture with a halter over her shoulder — that can so easily inspire a story. A horse leaning on the cross-ties, dozing while a farrier leans over his hoof, gossiping as he grinds away with the hoof file — what’s the story there?

It takes time, but once you start seeing story potential in every little thing, those silly words “writer’s block” simply disappear from your vocabulary.

Later this week I’ll share some examples of popular barn life and training blog posts at Retired Racehorse Blog to give you an idea of what I wrote about in those days. All of these posts still get hits, by the way. So pick a blog title you like and you can stick with. Because throughout the years Retired Racehorse has gone through some changes, such as when I went to Aqueduct and started galloping racehorses, but I was stuck with the name. Thanks to Google and SEO and site rankings, you can’t just change the names of websites whenever you want.

Your most thoughtful blog posts might also get republished, which is a great way to pad your resume if you are going to start looking for published writing work. My intro post, “You Can’t Hug A Thoroughbred,” was actually published in a few newsletters and print magazines around the world, in addition to getting reposted on commercial websites. I’m seeing this quite a lot from some of the more prominent equestrian lifestyle bloggers, like A Yankee In Paris — The Chronicle of the Horse, HorseNation, and Horse Junkies United all like to pick up blog posts going viral and repost them.

But that’s down the road. Don’t worry about going viral just yet. Make some friends. Practice your writing. See what works.

Let’s continue the conversation. Do you blog already? How is it working for you? How do you find topics to blog about?

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 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?