Has this pandemic turned your world upside-down? Sometimes it really feels that way for me. While I try to keep myself busy all day and into the night with writing, there’s times where I can’t escape the reality of how much things have changed… and how much uncertainty there is about the future.
Well, thank goodness for books. I’m craving horse books more than ever right now, because I’m cut off from riding and barn-time. A little virtual gallop is exactly what my soul is crying out for, and so horse books are the best escape of all.
I’ve recommended horse books on this blog before, of course, but this is a nice little list of eight horse books for under $5 — some of which are also free via Kindle Unlimited — which are all written by grown-up horse girls with a passion for ponies and the desire to share some horsey goodness with the rest of this shut-in world. You’ll see some familiar friends on this list, but you might spot something new… and there’s something for every age!
So click through if you see something you like, take advantage of some special offers, and read some horse books. You’ll feel better. Really!
First off, my most recent novel The Hidden Horses of New Yorkis on sale for $2.99 now through April 28, 2020. So don’t miss that if you haven’t read it yet!
Full of equine epiphanies, In the Reins is a love story sure to touch your inner cowgirl, capturing the struggle between letting life move forward and shying away from taking the reins with horses and in love.
I hope this list of horse books helps you find some reads to take you away and give you a much-needed escape. If you’re looking for more, check out these pages around my site:
I’ve known Laurie Berglie a long time. This equestrian author and I go back to my old days of blogging about off-track Thoroughbreds for my breakout blog Retired Racehorse, and when she published her first novel a few years ago, I was absolutely delighted. Where the Bluegrass Growsis a pleasure to read, a romance with plenty of equine co-stars and a lot of heart.
When she sent me a copy of her latest novel in her Equestrian Romance series, I dropped everything to read it. Taking Offis the story of Erin, who attentive readers will have met in Berglie’s second book, Kicking On. Erin is faced with a life change and when she takes it, you’re going to be cheering her onward… and maybe thinking about your own possibilities. I put it down utterly in love with Erin and ready to read more about her adventures, and I know I’m not alone!
When Laurie isn’t writing fiction she’s living her best life with several lovely horses and a resident fox — which she helpfully documents for us with her impeccably curated Instagram, Maryland Equestrian. As a girl who grew up with a childhood split between Maryland and Florida, Laurie’s decidedly English equestrian lifestyle calls to the Marylander inside me! She’s also a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, so, like, we just get each other. And if her doormat ever disappears, she’s going to know exactly who took it.
Laurie, when you first wrote for Retired Racehorse Blog (years ago!) I had no idea you were going to get into fiction. What made you decide to start writing equestrian romances?
Crazy, right? Me neither! I had always loved to write, and dabbled with fiction here and there, but nothing ever stuck. Then I started writing what eventually turned into Where the Bluegrass Grows, and it stuck. It probably took me 5+ years to finish the first draft, but I just kept coming back to it. I ended up really liking my characters and wanting to see what happened to them, where their story led, etc., so I just kept at it.
Your characters are intertwined just enough to keep the stories connected – did you always plan a series filled with friends and family?
I actually didn’t. When I wrote Where the Bluegrass Grows, I ended up really liking the character of Macy. She seemed to have this fun story all her own, so when I finished Bluegrass, I decided to focus on Macy and tell her story a bit, so to speak, and that became Kicking On. In that novel, Erin’s character ended up having a larger role than I initially thought she would, so I wanted to give her her own story as well. I think when I originally started out, I was going to write a few books about Molly, always having her be my main focus, but the other characters came to life in a way that I wanted them to have their books too and not to always be supporting characters. It’s interesting how things unintentionally take shape!
A quarter-life crisis seems to be a major theme for your main characters. They realize they’re on the wrong track or something else spurs them into making a massive life change. Any… uh… personal experience with this?
Hahaha good question! No quarter-life crisis here per se, but my characters do explore the paths in life I didn’t take, but possibly wanted to. Molly is living my dream life – to be a full-time writer of fiction. Macy, as an equine vet, is living a life that I didn’t pursue but thought seriously about for many years. I spent most of my mid-twenties debating about whether or not to go back to school to be a vet. I think had I gone to vet school immediately after undergrad, I would have done it, but ultimately, I decided that I wasn’t in the position to take out thousands of dollars in student loans to pursue that career. So I had Macy do it!
Of all my characters, I think I am most similar to Erin. She’s an attorney and I also considered law school for quite some time. With Erin, I also explore the whole not having kids thing – which is a decision I made years ago. While my husband is on board with the no kids lifestyle and I, thankfully, have not experienced a divorce the way Erin has, I went down the ‘what if’ path with her. What if my husband had wanted kids and I didn’t? Then – what if I truly hated my job and wanted to leave to follow my passion? And since Erin is rather bold, I knew she could answer those questions for me, and that turned into Taking Off.
I absolutely use characters to explore the paths I haven’t taken, so I am on your wavelength here! So, what have you learned as you wrote and launched your third book that you wished debut author Laurie had known?
I wish I wouldn’t have been so scared about – well, all of it. When I published my first book, I told almost no one. I think I wrote a blog post about it, shared a handful of times on social media, but that was it. I gave it life and then just let it die. With my second novel (and there were three years in between) – I had a plan for how to market it. I really leveraged my Instagram platform and sent lots of copies to influencers. (I don’t think “influencers” were really a thing when I published my first). And, unlike the first, I wasn’t afraid to reach out and ask for help with promotion… blogs, magazines, podcasts, etc. I realized that I couldn’t just wait for people to come to me. I had to reach out, introduce myself, and pitch my PR ideas. Some have worked out and some haven’t, but at least I put myself out there and made some great connections.
Your Instagram presence is amazing! Is Instagram your main brand presence, and was this on purpose or just how your audience developed?
Thank you! Yes Instagram is my main brand presence – I don’t really keep up my blog or Facebook page anymore. Everything just got too time-consuming and sometimes something has to give. My Instagram all happened by accident. I started it in 2014 as my personal account. I kept it public (also by accident), but then I noticed random people starting to follow me. I figured, oh I guess there are some people out there who like seeing horse pictures, so I kept it public and started playing with it… sometimes I posted personal things, sometimes I shared nice curated content, and it went from there. This was back in Instagram’s glory days before the horrible algorithm, so I think it was easier to build an account. Now it’s SO hard to gain new followers and growth has definitely slowed. But – I really like the little community I’ve built! Everyone loves horses and books – lots of common ground – so it’s fun to chat with my “friends.” 🙂
Hey – no quotation marks necessary! You never know when your Insta friends are going to bump into you – like when we were hanging out at the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes a few years ago! Thanks for being on the blog, Laurie!
Now it’s your turn, readers. You can find Laurie Berglie’s equestrian romance novels in Kindle and paperback formats at Amazon (and look at these covers! Gorgeous!). Click the covers to read more and get your copy!
It’s time for another five questions! I’m so excited to welcome Dawn LeFevre to my site. Dawn has just published a new equestrian fiction novel, Backstretch Girls. And with her racing creds, I think everyone should know about it! Let’s dig in.
Dawn, thanks so much for joining me at my blog! You’ve just published a new horse racing novel, and we want to hear all about it. But first, tell us a little bit about your background. You’ve got some first-hand racing experience, right?
I worked at Atlantic City Racecourse every summer from the age of 16 until I graduated from Cook College. After graduation, I became an assistant trainer for Walter Medio, aka, the King of AC and spent 13 years owning and training racehorses at AC, Garden State Park, Monmouth, Meadowlands, Delaware and Philly Park (now Parx).
That’s a great resume! Tell us a little about your new book and the inspiration for Backstretch Girls.
Backstretch Girls is about the friendship between a hardheaded ponygirl, Teagan, and Anne, a naïve jockey wannabe and is set in the late 1980’s at Atlantic City Racecourse. Teagan is the black sheep in her Olympic equestrian family; Anne grew up in a trailer park and had to play stable slave to ride, yet they bond over their love of horses.
My inspiration for Backstretch Girls is all those wonderful Thoroughbreds I knew and loved. All the racehorse names in my book are cobbled together from real racehorses. Lucky All Over is a tribute to two wonderful fillies – Plain All Over (a stakes winner voted champion New Jersey bred two year old filly in 1989) and Luckey Lipco (a game claimer known for her win streaks at AC).
Haunting Melody is the only actual name I kept, although the real horse was a dark bay filly I owned back in 1999.
I love those names. Getting names right is such an important part of writing equestrian fiction! What’s your writing process like? Did the idea for Backstretch Girls come slowly to you over the years, or all at once?
My writing “process” is just me scribbling incoherently in a notebook then trying to read my handwriting while I edit and type it up. First, I create my main characters and their backgrounds then figure out how I’m going to “ruin their lives”.
While Backstretch Girls is my first published novel, I’ve actually written two others prior to it, one of which was also set on the track. My goal with Backstretch Girls was to provide an unflinching look at the racing industry – the sexism, the unethical veterinary practices, and the owners who put profit ahead of their horse’s welfare. On the flip side, you have those unsung workers who will sacrifice everything for their horses, the grooms, hotwalkers, trainers, ponypeople, etc.
It’s definitely a wild and wooly place, with good and bad people. (And horses honestly!)What’s coming next for you? Are there more racing stories on the horizon?
I’m currently working on my next novel which will also be set in the racing world but is a more personal story – the main character trying to cope with the loss of her mother while training a ragtag stable of claimers.
My mother was the reason I fell in love with horse racing; we’d watch all the major races on TV together as well as the New York racing show every Saturday when I was growing up. For my high school graduation gift, she took me to Kentucky where we visited Claiborne and Spendthrift farm and I had the pleasure of meeting Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. My mother passed away suddenly in 2018 and it devastated me. I stopped writing for over a year. Finally, I decided that this book would be a tribute to her and Garden State Park.
That’s a lovely tribute. Now, I love to know what everyone’s reading, so tell us about some of your favorite reads of 2019. What do we need to get on our reading lists ASAP?
The last horse racing book I read was Casual Lies – A Triple Crown Adventure by Shelley Riley. I always wondered what had happened to her after the 1992 Triple Crown; she’d done an amazing job with this horse and yet, was never given another big horse to train. The book is a double love story – between Shelley and her husband, Jim and then between Shelley and Stanley, aka, Casual Lies. It’s a funny, sad, entertaining read and a must for any woman thinking about becoming a trainer. It saddens and angers me that still no woman trainer or jockey has won the Kentucky Derby and few even are even given the chance to compete.
I just finished reading When Elephants Fly by Nancy Richardson Fischer. I was originally drawn to it because of the ongoing debate of whether animals should be kept in zoos and circuses. Right now a lot of those same animal rights questions tackled by this book are being thrown at the horse racing industry. Activists are quick to cry “Ban it!” without realizing the repercussions, such as what are you going to do with all these animals after you shut down the circus or racetrack? I was also pleasantly surprised by how well the subplot regarding the main character’s struggle with mental illness was handled.
That does sound really interesting. It’s so important to look at both sides of an issue… I wish more people would do that before they just start shouting “animal rights!”
Well, many thanks to Dawn LeFevre for jumping in and telling us about the inspiration and backstory for Backstretch Girls.
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!
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!
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.
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…
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?
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?
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!
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:
Reviews from people who hate your book because it doesn’t do what they wanted it to do.
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.
Reviews from people who didn’t read your book but just think it sounds awful.
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.
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).
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?