Horse Rescue: Where did the stories come from?

Structural editing: pages from the book -- 'cut and paste' old school!

Structural editing: pages from the book — ‘cut and paste’ old school!

Where did Horse Rescue stories come from?

My publisher, Andrea McNamara from Penguin Australia, approached me to see if I was interested in writing this book. Of course I said yes!

Right from the start, Andrea and I agreed that we wanted to create a book of inspirational stories rather than focusing on the stressful issues that lead to horses being neglected, abused or sent to slaughter. As I say in my introduction to the book, you can easily go and find that information if you want to, but what brings me joy are the inspiring, goose-bumping, enlightening stories of exhilarating triumph, quiet meditative wisdom, life-changing moments and powerful self-healing. Most importantly, we wanted to highlight the relationship between the rescue horse and the person or people whose life had been changed because of it. And Andrea invited me to weave my own personal stories into the book as well. Then we worked out a structure and I set about filling the chapters.

The keys to the successful stories were that (1) this was not a book about horse slaughter specifically (and though a number of the horses were rescued this way, many were not); (2) it was not a book about horse rescue organisations (though one of the stories came via one in Victoria), and nor was it a book about equine therapy organisations specifically… a broad mix of stories was needed; and (3) the focus was on the relationship between the rescued horse and the rescuer, so the interviewee needed to be able to clearly articulate the way in which that horse had changed her or his life, and be willing to have that shared with the whole country!

The book opens with the story of me and my rescue horse, Lincoln (a gelding I ‘accidentally’ bought at a dogger sale on a blistering hot day in September 2009), who changed my life, not least of which was by inspiring me to start a horse rescue charity.

For other chapters, I approached a few people directly, such as Jill Strachan and Elf, because I knew their story well and found it so moving. My dad texted me one night and told me to turn on the TV to ABC’s Compass, where I found a story on Colin Emonson and the Horses for Hope program in Victoria. And through Colin, I found Michael Williams, in and out of prison for seven years before finding hope through horses. My stepmother found a story in the Women’s Weekly on Sue Spence and the Horse Whispering Youth Program. I contacted Sue and asked her if she happened to have a rescue horse in her therapy team. As luck had it, she had little Larry, a rescued miniature pony who not only helped her through the healing stages of breast cancer but who went on to change literally hundreds of children’s lives.

For other stories, I cast a wide net. I emailed scores of organisations (pony clubs and equestrian and RDA groups), explaining my agenda for the book and inviting people to contact me if they thought they had a powerful story to share, and I listed my request many times over on various Facebook sites too. From one of those posts, someone emailed me and told me to contact Australian Olympian, Rebel Morrow, who had rescued her horse, Groover, from slaughter and taken him all the way to the Athens Olympics. I had been looking for exactly that type of story but had been running into dead ends until I received that person’s email—another piece of luck that popped up at the right time to help shape the book’s development.

Slowly, the rest of the stories began to come to my inbox. To be honest, I was worried I would be inundated and I’d have to say no to people and disappoint them, something I really dreaded. Although a few stories came in that were great in themselves, for one reason or another they didn’t suit the book or show enough variation in story type to be included. But mostly, the ones that came in were the ones that stayed. I was truly blessed with quality not quantity and I was thrilled with the great variety.

I did try hard to include some male perspectives in the book because men’s voices are generally under-represented when talking about horse rescuers; and I did try hard to find content from places in Australia outside of the eastern states, but as it turned out none came through. 

I didn’t contact horse rescue groups specifically because I know there are lots of them around the country and I didn’t want to appear to be favouring any one organisation over another. But none were excluded as anyone from anywhere in Australia could have emailed through a story. It was just the way the cards fell. (The only exception to that was that I think I might have sent information about the book to one organisation in WA and that was towards the end when I hadn’t received any contributions from outside eastern Australia. But that didn’t pan out either.)

Of the Skype interviews that I conducted, there was only one I didn’t take further and that was because that particular story (though wonderful) was just not quite right for the mix of stories already in the book by that time.

It was a lengthy process, and the very final chapter’s subject only came in a short time before the final submission deadline. I’m so very grateful for everyone who shared their stories. The honour was truly mine.

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How much is a life worth?

My old girl, Anastasia

My old girl, Anastasia

The other day, someone asked me how I felt about taking on horses with lots of issues while I was running a horse rescue charity and it’s not the first time I’ve been asked, so I thought I’d take the chance to write about it here.

One of the most difficult things about rescuing horses is that at some point, you’ll be asked to make life and death decisions. Which horse do you save? Which horse do you pass over?
When faced with requests to save a horse that is on death row, I took every situation very seriously and always did my best, even if that meant all I could do was to post the information online and hope someone else picked the horse up.

Every horse I heard about lodged itself into my psyche and I continued to think about it for weeks and months and maybe years afterwards… always wondering. What happened? (Even now, two years after the charity ended, I still wonder what happened to some of those horses.)

The next difficult question to deal with was how much money would we, or could we, invest into a horse? If we had one horse that needed thousands of dollars to rehabilitate, then weren’t we taking money away from other horses in need? Is it fair? Does one horse’s right to a new life outweigh the rights of many others?

Ultimately, the question people are asking is how much is a life worth?

I realised very early on that we couldn’t play the numbers game. That is, it wasn’t not necessarily ‘better’ to save one hundred horses than it was to save ten. Why? Because there are too many horses in Australia. No matter how many we saved, there were hundreds of thousands more waiting to take their place at the slaughterhouse. Since we couldn’t beat the numbers (quantity), we had to make sure that the horses we could save received the very best (quality) in order to improve their lives.

I used to be a teacher. And at one point, we had several new students come to the school. These students had special needs and were being integrated into mainstream schooling. The school was required to make many modifications to buildings, costing many thousands of dollars. Many parents and teachers were upset by this, saying that it was unfair. It was then that I heard a new definition of equality:

“Equality doesn’t mean that every person is treated the same. Equality means that every person receives whatever they need in order to have the same opportunities in life.”

So I adopted that definition. Was it fair to spend thousands of dollars rehabilitating one horse? Yes, if it meant that horse got whatever it needed in order to have the same opportunity to find its loving forever home. How much is a life worth? Whatever it takes.

I felt that it wasn’t up to me to place judgement on a horse that was in a world of emotional and psychological pain and say that it wasn’t “worth” spending the money to rehabilitate it. I believe that all life is valuable; all life is equal.

And if I did put a value on a horse’s life, that would make me a horse dealer, which I am definitely not.

So I always want to make sure that the horses lucky enough to come into my care receive whatever they need in order to go back out into the world, stronger, wiser, healthier and healed. It’s the best I can do.

Horse Rescue Book Coming Soon

I’m very excited to announce that my first non-fiction book for Penguin Australia is Horse Rescue: inspiring stories of second chance horses and the lives they changed has been officially signed off and sent to print!

The book is due for release on 27 August 2014. I wish I could show you the cover but I don’t have a final version yet, but the draft version is GORGEOUS and I can’t wait to share it with you. In the meantime, here’s a few pics to keep you going.

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Publishing with Penguin Books Australia

Publishing with Penguin Books Australia

I am proud to announce that I have a contract with Penguin Books Australia for a non-fiction book, Horse Rescue Stories.

I have been working on the book for most of this year and have been travelling around the country and interviewing, photographing and meeting some wonderful people who have rescued a horse. The focus of the book, a topic close to my heart, is the way in which a rescued horse changes the person’s life, just as much as the person changes the horse’s life.

I am so very proud to be working on this book, a project I didn’t go looking for but that came to me in one of those fantastically serendipitous ways, and am really looking forward to bringing these stories to you. Stay tuned for updates!

Memoir Shortlisted

It was only two blog posts ago that I wrote about how I’d picked up a memoir that had been sitting unattended in a drawer for two years, dusted it off and sent it off for a competition.

So I was thrilled to find an email in my inbox yesterday morning informing me that my memoir manuscript, Webs of Light, had been shortlisted for the Finch Publishing Memoir Prize. The prize was open to any unpublished memoir manuscript, across the nation, and the winner receives a publishing contract as well as $10,000 advance against future royalties.

Webs of Light is about the sixteen years I spent with my horse, Hercules and the way he changed my life. The timing of this email was particularly poignant, as the night before I had just lost the first of our rescue horses to come into Charlie’s Angels Horse Rescue Inc. (the horse welfare charity I began last year). As Webs of Light highlights the importance of caring for, loving, and commiting to animals, it seemed a lovely pat on the shoulder from the Universe, a gentle hug to say, it’s okay.

I am honoured to be part of the finalists in this competition. Thank you Finch!

The Art of Procrastinating

I’m having one of those days. It’s now past four o’clock in the afternoon, and while I have been busy at home all day, I have not been busy doing what I (thought I) wanted to do. While my latest YA novel is resting, waiting for me to return to edit it for draft two, I have picked up an older manuscript to start again. It is a chick lit/women’s fiction manuscript, and one for which I have created the most charming world in which my characters roam. (In my mind, anyway.) So why am I procrastinating?

I just haven’t been able to pick myself up today. I feel dopey and depressed and desperate to catch up on some sleep, but it’s too hot to do that. So I’m stuck in the lounge room with the air conditioner, trying to convince myself to start work on my chick lit/women’s fic manuscript.

It’s nothing new. All writers suffer from bouts of procrastination. And I’ve never quite been able to work out why. I feel better when I write, and writing inevitably begs me to write some more. (It’s a lot like exercise or, ahem, other sweaty activities.) So, I’ve washed the dishes, folded clothes, found my passport for an upcoming trip to New Zealand, found tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner, written a long list of everything that needs to be done before said trip to NZ, designed and ordered marketing materials for Charlie’s Angels Horse Rescue, fluffed around on Facebook and YouTube, and wrangled cats, dogs and horses.

And now I’m blogging…

I know that I am not constructively procrastinating. And that’s the real key. I believe that procrastination can be good–indeed, necessary–but only if we do it constructively. Over the years, I’ve worked out some good and bad procrastination activities.

Good procrastination activities (i.e. that actually move and develop me as a writer) include: reading books, reading writing magazines, editing my writing (because it seems easier to deconstruct things than it does to construct them, but it inevitably leads to me wanting to construct once more), going on an ‘artist’s date’ (to the theatre, dance class, festival, delicatessen… anywhere that feeds the senses), riding my horse (the combination of exercise and joy gives me a real boost), critiquing other writers’ work, and meeting other writers for fun/work purposes.

Bad procrastination activities include: housework, going to the post office, emailing, updating websites (such as blogging…), going grocery shopping, paying bills, bookkeeping, researching new appliances/computers/cars/food dehydraters, ebaying, ordering stuff online, organising, filing, and feeling guilty.

All of those ‘bad’ procrastination activities are all useful and worthwhile and need to be done. But not at the expense of writing.

So, here I am, signing off from my current ‘bad’ procrastination exercise to go onto some ‘good’ procrastinating.

Then again, it’s nearly time for Bold and the Beautiful….