Talking Rodeo History & Ranch Life With Author Heidi M. Thomas

Posted on Updated on

After the last blog post with female bronc rider Kaila Mussell, author Heidi M. Thomas contacted me about doing an interview. I won’t spoil the surprise, but Heidi’s background is a perfect follow-up to a bronc riding story, especially since the NFR 2015 has just started! Not only an award-winning prolific writer and editor, she’s an author with a strong western heritage that I think all of us horse lovers can relate to.

Heidi small Author Photo

Heidi at Silver spur tableTell us about your childhood growing up on a working ranch in Montana. What were some of your favorite things about growing up ranching?

I loved the sense of freedom of living miles from a town, being able to run and play with no restrictions as a kid. Working with my parents taught me a sense of self-reliance, strong work-ethic and independence. Being around cows, horses, dogs and cats gave me a love for animals. And being without “technical amenities” gave me a love for reading and writing.

 Peregrine signing

You also had a grandmother that rode bucking stock. What was it like growing up with a grandmother that rode roughstock?

I knew she loved riding and being outdoors more than anything in the world and we rode horses together numerous times. But I didn’t know she was a rodeo cowgirl until she passed away when I was 12. My dad and I were going through photo albums and he casually remarked, “Did you know your grandma rode bucking stock in rodeos?” Whoa! How cool was that! I filed that away in my brain until many years later when I was ready to write about her life.

CowgirlDreams Front Cover 1x1.5What do you think made her decide to ride roughstock, and what were some of the challenges that she faced?

I wish I could’ve asked her questions about that, but through stories my dad told me and my research, I learned that many girls naturally gravitated toward that sport. They, like my grandmother, grew up on ranches, riding with their dads, brothers and later, husbands out of necessity. Then when the men got together and decided to see who could stay on the back of that bucking bronc the longest, the girls said, “We can do that too!” Many started competing around age 14. Their families sometimes were accepting and sometimes not. It was socially unacceptable to wear men’s pants, travel and compete with men, and it was dangerous. The “old-time” cowboys didn’t think “girls” could ride and they didn’t like it when they were outridden by a woman.

 

What impact has your grandmother, and growing up on a ranch had on your writing?

It’s had a huge impact. From that casual remark by my dad have come four published books! Her life and my growing up on a ranch gave me a love and a first-hand feeling for the setting, which I think is an important part of my writing.

Dream Cover Final 1.5x2 

When did you start writing, and what were some of your challenges you faced when you started?

I like to say I was born with ink in my veins. I’ve been writing since I could form letters. I did get my degree in journalism from the University of Montana and worked for the newspaper in Missoula, then did several years of freelance writing for other publications. When I started writing fiction seriously, I found that although I had a good foundation through journalism, I had to learn to “show, not tell” and not to write so spare in the “Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity” mode. After I’d written and polished my first manuscript to the best of my ability, I started to send it out and collect rejections. In that process I learned that I needed to study and practice my craft more, so I took a two-year certification course through the University of Washington in fiction writing. Then, it was a matter of finding a publisher once I was ready to submit. It took ten years from the time I started the book until it was published. I now have four published books: Cowgirl Dreams (1920s), Follow the Dream (1930s), Dare to Dream (1940s), and the nonfiction book, Cowgirl Up: A History of Rodeo Women.

 What was your first book that was published? What was it like to finally see your work in print?

My first book was Cowgirl Dreams, the first of my “Dreams” trilogy, based on my grandmother. It was such a huge thrill to hold that first book in my hands! I was so excited and felt validated, that my dream was coming to fruition after all the years of hard work.

Are you a full-time writer? (If so, tell us how you got there, if not tell us your writing goals)

Yes, I consider that my vocation (as well as my avocation), along with freelance editing for other authors. I didn’t start writing books until after I had “retired” from a “regular” job, and I had a husband who was extremely supportive in all ways—my number one fan and cheerleader.

When do you do your best writing, and why? 

I’m not a morning person, and I don’t have a set schedule, although I keep telling myself I need to! Mid-day and early afternoon are my best times. Also, I think from my journalism background, I find I write best with a deadline! I belong to a critique group that meets once a week, so that gives me my motivation!

You have written several books that have won awards. Tell us about those & the inspiration behind them. 

They are a part of my “Cowgirl Dreams” trilogy. Cowgirl Dreams won an EPIC (Electronic Publishing) award and was a finalist in the USA Best Books competition. The sequel, Follow the Dream, won the coveted WILLA (named for Willa Cather) award from Women Writing the West. And of course, both are based on my grandmother’s life.

What is your latest book project?

I’m working on “the next generation” trilogy, based on my mother who came from Germany after WWII.

 Any words of wisdom for other writers and those that aspire to write?

From my own experience, I’m glad my first novel did not get published when I first sent it out. Today, it’s become much easier to self-publish and it doesn’t carry the stigma it used to. But don’t be in a big hurry to publish your book. Learn and practice your craft. Take classes, read how-to books, and join or create a critique group. And when you’ve rewritten it for the 50th time and polished it to the best of your ability, hire an editor to go through it. Above all, perseverance is key. Don’t give up!

 

If you want to keep up with Heidi you can find her on social media –

Website: http://www.heidimthomas.com

Facebook: search Heidi M. Thomas, Author

Twitter: @heidiwriter

Publisher buy-link: www.rowman.com

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Heidi-M.-Thomas/e/B004QT2N4M/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1448835070&sr=1-2-ent

 Dare Cover Final 1.5x2

Advertisements

Meet Kaila Mussell

Posted on Updated on

Earlier this year, I found out about female Saddle Bronc rider, Kaila Mussell.

Photo by Filene Mussell
Photo by Filene Mussell

The fact that she rides Saddle Bronc is pretty impressive in itself, but the fact that she’s come back from a broken neck is a clear witness to the strength that she has on the inside. She’s a phenomenal athlete and I think she’s someone who exhibits the strength and toughness we all aspire to.

Photo by Bernie Hudyma
Photo by Bernie Hudyma

What was it that made you decide you wanted to try riding broncs?

I started off in rodeo, barrel racing at 11, and steer riding at 12.  I did well at both events, however I got more of a rush out of riding steers and wanted to stay in the roughstock events.  When I became too old to ride steers, my initial inclination was to ride bulls, however my dad convinced me otherwise. I’m glad he did, as at that point I knew of some women who have ridden bareback broncs and bulls, but didn’t know any women who rode saddle bronc in the modern style of saddle bronc riding.  It turned into a more prestegious goal for me then, becoming the first woman to do so.  At that time,  my brother also wanted to ride broncs, so we both went to some bronc riding schools together to learn.

Photo by Christopher Morris
Photo by Christopher Morris

How did you feel the first time you rode an actual bronc out of the chute?

That was so long ago, and I’m pretty sure that I blacked out.  When I was first learning that happened a lot, and even when I rode I couldn’t remember what happened.   Eight seconds happens pretty quick, however over time and practice that short time (8 seconds) slows down, and when everything is happening right, it feels like all your movements are in slow motion.

Photo by Patti Ouimette
Photo by Patti Ouimette

When you decided to actually compete the first time, how did you feel?   What were some of your thoughts & fears and how did you overcome those?

I was pretty nervous the first time I completed. I did, however grow up breaking colts since I was 10, so I already had alot of exposure to riding horses that bucked, and I already had rodeo experience, although not in saddle bronc.  Most of my thoughts would have been related  to not wanting to being a “failure” and get bucked off, not wanting to look like a “girl” out there, or scared that I wouldn’t be accepted because I was a girl.  I really wanted to be accepted and to show others that I was just as capable as other bronc riders.  Nowadays my attitude on all of these feelings has been completely turned around, however at that point in time that is definitely what I thought.

You broke your neck last year. Tell us a little about that.

I broke my neck on April 5, 2014 at a BCRA rodeo in  Barriere, BC.  I got bucked off and landed on my head and kind of rolled onto the right side of my neck and shoulder.  I felt a shooting pain down the my right arm, and what felt like a crunch, but I chalked it up to a concussion, because other than being pretty sore, that’s what it felt like.  I drove home that night, which was a couple of hours away and didn’t go to the hospital.  The next day I was talking to my brother who is a doctor (GP), and he convinced me that I should go get it checked out because I was supposed to be flying to Hawaii the next day for a family vacation.  I went to the hospital more so to eliminate anything being wrong with me, because I didn’t want to chance having high medical bills in another country.  I happened to be picking up a friend at the airport that day and decided to stop in at VGH (Vancouver General Hospital) which is the only spinal unit in BC.  I’m happy that I did.  They took the injury very seriously and put me on a backboard and in a neck brace.  Multiple x-rays, CT and MRI later I was told that I broke my neck in 2 places on the right side of C6, and that I wouldn’t be going anywhere.  I wore a brace for a couple of weeks until they realized my neck wasn’t healing properly.  Immediately thereafter I went in for surgery and ended up getting a fusion between C5-C7, and two of my disks replaced by part of my right hip bone.

Photo by Filene Mussell
Photo by Filene Mussell

When did you decide to start riding again after that and why? Was riding the first time after your injury different from what it was like before?

While I was healing from a broken neck I was faced with all sorts of thoughts and decisions about what my future would be.  After weighing all the facts, talking to my surgeon and hearing everyone elses often unwanted “opinions” on what I should do with my life, I dug deep down and realized that my passion for bronc riding was still there.  At minimum I wanted to come back to riding if only to end on my own terms.  I waited a full year after my injury to completely heal to ride again.  My first ride back was on a “practice” bronc, a day prior to Williams Lake, BC Indoor Rodeo where I was to be competing for the first time after breaking my neck.  The bronc “Starbucks”, was a horse I was familiar with and I had ridden a few times in the past.  I managed to get her rode, but it wasn’t pretty and got off on the pickup man.  It definitely was a huge relief to get that one out of the way, as I came away without injury!  From there, the major fear was gone, and I was back to the swing of things.

How was it different?

The main difference with coming back riding after such a major injury, was that I appreciated the opportunity of being able to ride again.  I’ve noticed this year that I’ve had a lot more fun, not taken things as seriously as I have in the past, and enjoyed the whole journey of riding broncs in all aspects of the experience both outside and inside the arena.   I also managed to win the year-end season leader saddle for the BCRA (BC Rodeo Association) in the saddle bronc.  So overall, my comeback has been amazing!

How do you stay mentally tough?

I think pretty positive on a regular basis.  When I don’t, I remind myself why I’m doing this, focus and look at the bigger picture.  I read inspirational/self-help books, say positive affirmations to myself and post them around me.  As well, journaling has been a huge help in focusing on my goals, seeing where my mindset is, noticing things that may have helped in the past that can help me now, and/or seeing how far I have come and being able to acknowledge this.

What is that motivates you to keep going?

This is a really hard thing to describe what motivates me, as only a small amount of this can be put into words.  Motivation is more of a feeling, a passion that can’t be described.  I’m driven to do it, in part because I love the sport, the lifestyle, the challenge, the adrenaline and excitement of the sport.  To a large part these days I am motivated by seeing how much I inspire others to pursue their dreams by doing what I do.

Photo by Thomas Camus
Photo by Thomas Camus

What is your fitness routine to stay in shape to ride?

My fitness routine varies throughout the year depending on my work and rodeo schedule.  On a regular basis I strength train (primarily core training) 3 days a week  (30-40 mins), do cardio (primarily jogging) 3 days a week (4 miles), and yoga (1 hour) 1-2 days a week as well.  This may be alternated with other physical activities such as hiking, biking, MMA training or otherwise.

As for eating, I have had a lot of structured strict diets over the years.  I now find that its easier to eat well on a regular basis and stay active than to go to extremes.  I really don’t deny myself any foods, however less healthy alternatives I eat in moderation.  On a daily basis I do eat a high amount of protein, stick to whole, unprocessed foods,  and eat small amounts throughout the day rather than eating large meals.  Mind you, when you are on the road, it is sometimes hard to eat well or regularly.  I try to always pack lots of water and healthy snacks in case this happens.

Photo by Kat Nair
Photo by Kat Nair

Any words of wisdom for anyone that wants to ride broncs, or anyone that wants to rodeo in general?

Set clear goals of what you want.  Be willing to learn and put in the time and effort into what you do.  The skills for your chosen event in rodeo will not come overnight, but with hard work and dedication it will all come together.  Strive to constantly learn and improve.

What’s mandatory to be able to rodeo?

Mental and physical toughness, love of traveling, getting dirty,and performing under pressure, aside from investing a lot of money.  Nothing in life is easy,  but when things come together, it is all worth the effort.  Rodeoing is a lot like gambling, the only thing you are in complete control of is your effort in your ride or run.

If you’d like to keep up with Kaila, you can keep up on her social media accounts –

https://www.facebook.com/saddlebroncgirl/

https://instagram.com/kailamussell/

https://twitter.com/kaila_mussell

Living On The Edge

Posted on

This time, instead of doing the usual interview questions, I thought I would do something a little different as this young rodeo competitor, Zakk Tompkins of On The Edge rodeo apparel, has quite a story to tell. You can find Zakk and his brand on Twitter at @OnTheEdgeRodeo . Check out his  unique brand on his website at On The Edge apparel.

IMG_0883 (1)

I’m a 23-year-old cowboy, entrepreneur and freelance writer born and raised in central,IL.

Running both a full service equine facility, and an apparel company, keeps me fairly busy! Average days consist of feeding and caring for the 18 horses we have on site providing full board, training and lessons. Whether it be cleaning stalls, fixing fence or working colts my days are filled with these chores for the most part.

We currently do about 20 lessons a week with folks of all ages. Lessons are western riding ranging anywhere from complete beginner to those wishing to compete in rodeo. The latter is perhaps the most important part to me and the motivating factor in continuing even during tough times.

As a young kid, like many others I wanted to be a cowboy. Although I didn’t fully understand all that the lifestyle and job entailed, I knew wanted to be a part of this amazing subculture. Unfortunately, I was already committed to competing in wrestling and martial arts.

I began training Muay Thai with my dad at age two, as he had competed professionally prior to my birth. I vividly remember religiously watching episodes of Walker Texas ranger and then having to “Walker fight” my dad after each show. This consisted of him being the bad guy and me of course playing the part of Chuck Norris. By about 4 years old, my cut kicks were leaving sizeable welts on my dad’s legs which apparently was a green light to further my training.

As the years went on my training continued. I began to compete across the country at national events. Although I loved the sport and travel, I always wanted something a little different. I just wasn’t sure what.

School work and sports came easy. I had many friends and a seemingly happy home life. Yet, even though I was only twelve, I was slowly loosing myself, slowly dying. As fear, doubt, and anger consumed me, I fell into a deep depression.

I don’t tell you this to make you feel sorry for me, I tell you this because I want everyone to see and realize that depression is a biological disease. One that does not discriminate between race, gender or socio-economic status.

The ridicule at school became nearly unbearable. I was withdrawn and depressed and couldn’t explain why. Being someone who relied on logic, the feelings of sadness and anger being inexplicable were totally unacceptable to me. No matter what I got or how good life was, I was depressed. Coming home only to lay under a blanket in total isolation. Weight gain and self loathing followed. I allowed the symptoms of the disease to consume me.

This was a mistake that at the time I wasn’t aware I was making, and had no idea how to combat it. As the symptoms worsened, I finally spoke with a professional. In the midst of getting the help I needed, things continued to worsen.

At age 13, I left a suicide note and ran away from school. I will never forget every detail of the steps I took that day. I was found very shortly by my father who had been contacted by authorities. As he eased my mind and convinced me to come home I felt some relief. I was admitted to a local mental health facility where I spent three agonizing days. Help was not immediate and it took years and personal dedication to make any headway.

Although I still suffer often from depression, I have found one of the greatest God-given coping mechanisms – purpose via horses.

One thing that drove me to get help from day one was that I knew others, who were less fortunate than me, were suffering the same as I was. As I slowly dropped out of traditional sports and grew older, I found various ways of becoming involved with horses.

I began dating a girl from school my freshman year who had a few Haflingers and was involved in Pony Club. Although English wasn’t my first choice for riding, it was my only option. My girlfriend at the time began teaching me to care for and ride the horses they had. Before long, I was volunteering full time at a local barn. I worked seven days a week doing the worst jobs you can find on a farm. I did this as a way to afford lessons.

I spent every free moment watching people ride and train, learning what I could. I watched and read everything I could get my hands on. Eventually, I got a paying job as a glorified stall boy at another local barn and took the horse I had purchased there. After about a year and working with several other trainers in both cutting and pleasure, I began leasing the property and running Westbrook Stable. This is the full service facility I now run.

 DSCN5467F

When I took over, it was a small operation providing boarding only with about 8 clients a month. Over the past three years, it has grown to 18 horses, a lesson program and training.

Having struggled through the grind to get where I am, I wanted to find a way to give back. We began a rodeo team for youth and adults that provides all the necessary equipment, knowledge and connections at the most affordable rate possible. It is amazing how many young lives we have been able to touch, and honestly is better than any medicine I’ve ever been prescribed. It took a combination of correcting the chemical imbalance, professional therapy and a LOT of self-help.

My girlfriend and I now compete in rodeos across the Midwest in barrel racing and tie down roping respectively. And yes, we are seeking sponsors!

This eclectic background is what drove me to start my apparel company called On The Edge. I wanted a brand that represented a lifestyle. I began designing apparel with a message. The message was simple – Lose the fear and doubt, live on the edge and chase your dreams! The brand is still small, but is gaining steady business we sport my brand and travel the rodeo circuit.

As last year was my rookie year in IPRA, I had a lot of tough times and lessons to learn. I’m now practicing harder than ever. In tempo with my usual MO, my goals for this year are sky-high, yet attainable. I am currently working to gain sponsors as well as preparing myself to chance to compete in RFD Tv’s The American. I will also be part of a six shooter series put on by a popular stock contractor on the IPRA circuit and am looking forward to a chance at winning the series and buckle.

  DSCN5452

If any one person can take an ounce of motivation from my story of struggle and perseverance, then it has all been worth it. My personal strategy every time I back in the box is to improve on ONE predetermined area of my roping during that run. Perfection is great but only comes after the building blocks are set in place. With that in mind, I don’t expect to be perfect.

My pastor, Jason Schifo was a major factor in my mindset. After hours and hours of talking with him, I finally realized that perfection wasn’t ever going to happen. It was beyond my control. What was in grasp of my control was the proper mindset, and remembering to get better with each and every run to the best of my ability. Leaving it all in the arena, one run at a time.

 DSCN5466

Cowboy Poet Stuart Hooker

Posted on

Award winning Cowboy Poet Stuart Hooker has been writing poetry for a lot of years, but it’s only the been the last few years that he’s shared his work with the world. A hard working man that grew up with traditional ranching and cowboy values, he’s a talented writer that’s never strayed far from his roots. If you love horses, cowboy poetry, and the western lifestyle you’ll love Stuart’s interview.

Award winning Cowboy Poet Stuart Hooker
Award winning Cowboy Poet Stuart Hooker

If you had to sum up in three words what you do, what would they be? 

Write for me.

Tell us a little bit about what a day in your life is like. 

A day in my life: Like most working folks, I have two separate types of days. I work in a copper mine, as most of my share of our family ranch did not come to me as my grandparents wished, so I have to work away from the ranch. The small part I was able to keep is not large enough to make a living on. In the mine, I operate a huge P&H electric shovel, loading 240 ton trucks with ore, leach material, or waste to be hauled out of the open pit mine. Nearly half of my days are spent going to work, to make a living, carrying and trying to share the work ethic I learned on the ranch. We work 12 hour shifts, so with vacations and days off, I am off more than half of the days. I have less than five years until I retire. I enjoy what I do, especially when I get to “train” new shovel operators.

another 4100 Shovel

Now, here’s the best part, having more days off than workdays! I was able to salvage a one section pasture that I am currently fencing off, so I can run eight to ten head of cattle on as a supplement to my retirement. It has a dirt tank that generally holds water year round, but with the drought conditions we’ve had here in SW New Mexico, it has been dry a few times in the past few years. I am in the process of building a road to my camp so I can get a well drilled and put a solar pump in. I plan on living there after retirement, but it’s miles away from power, so I’m looking into solar, back up generator, and other types of power. On my days off, I love to go work on this pasture. I’ve built what I call my “Kiva,” with the help of family and friends. I have a mini-motorhome I sleep in when there for a few days, and the “Kiva” is the gathering place for when family/friends join me. It has a fireplace, and three grills for cooking, table, home-made chairs, and other furniture. What I enjoy most is the complete silence and peace to be found there. It’s miles away from a highway and the county road that goes through my pasture is rarely traveled. You may find me cutting posts, stays, trimming brush, building fence or roads, or watching deer, elk, and other wildlife up there on my days off.

IMG_0851

My tank, full of water, with the Mogollon Mountains in the background! I love this pasture as it's part of the ranch that my great, great grandfather owned in the past.
My tank, full of water, with the Mogollon Mountains in the background! I love this pasture as it’s part of the ranch that my great, great grandfather owned in the past.

Tell us what type of writing you do.

I write cowboy poetry, mostly. At times I write song lyrics, when one “just sounds right” with a melody accompanying it, but the majority of my work is cowboy poetry. I was raised on our family ranch, working from a young age as a cowboy and as a farmer. We raised our own hay, grains, and “permanent pasture” for grazing. I have so many fond memories of working cattle, wrangling horses, and the close knit family we had at that time working together for the building up of the ranch. That’s why I write cowboy poetry. It’s a life I have lived and am getting back to soon.

Here is one verse from a poem in my book, “A Cowboy Spirit,” which was picked as best Western poetry book for 2014, by “True West Magazine” in their January 2014 issue. This is from the poem “I’ve Outlived Lots of Horses:”

 

I’ve outlived lots of horses, I’ve had good ones from the start,

I’ve outlived lots of horses, but they live on in my heart,

I’ve outlived lots of horses, I rode each one with pride,

I’ve outlived lots of horses, broke my heart when each one died;

 

You cain’t help but love horses, each one’s different than the rest,

You cain’t help but love horses, hard to say which one’s the best,

One may be good in mountains, one may have a lot more speed,

All of them have somethin’ that a cowboy may need;…

A Cowboy Spirit
A Cowboy Spirit

Tell us a little about your writing  history and how you got started. 

I have always loved music and poetry, mostly Country Western Music and Cowboy Poetry. Like I said earlier, I’ve written poetry for most of my life, but I thought it was not fitting for a cowboy to write poetry. My perspective was off. I finally let my family and very close friends view my work. I was amazed, and still am, by the fact that they liked it. When the lyrics I wrote went number one, in someone else’s name, after the anger subsided, I realized that I was doing something that I could take pride in, and very quickly my writing improved, due to that confidence.

 

I have just begun my journey as a writer. I’ve written for years, but only recently, July, 2013, had my book of poetry published. I have started reciting my poetry at local events and on “open mic night” at a local “Saloon and Opera House.” I competed at the Western Music Association in a poetry recital contest and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’m still an “unknown” as I build a reputation in the cowboy poetry world, so I’m not, as yet, invited to the large “gatherings” around the country. Also, my job keeps me from going to as many as I’d like, but I’ll retire soon and be able to attend more. I have found a new publisher and have my manuscript for my second book almost complete. I’m looking forward to it coming out. My first book received an enthusiastic review from Rick Huff, a nationally recognized reviewer of country music and poetry. I was amazed when he said, “Hooker is one heckuva poet,” and that my book was worth the effort to find.

 Tell us how horses have played a roll in your life. I bet you have some great horse stories… 

Horses have been an important part of my life, teaching me lessons in life and taking me to places that would normally be out of reach. When I got the first horse that was actually mine, my grandfather bought him, and one for my older brother, from a horse trader in Gila, NM. Grandpa knew they were out of Mexico, but they appeared to be good ranch horses. I remember my brother wasn’t paying attention once and got bucked off and broke his arm while riding his little paint. That made me cautious, but my black horse was worse. We didn’t know he had been “locoed” and he threw me higher than any other horse before or since. I still have slight back problems, as I landed on my shoulder and messed up my back. My next horse, a sorrel, was bred and raised on the ranch. He was more than a pet, or a tool, his personality was indescribable. We were more like best friends, so when I was checking on him out in the pasture, one winter and found he and eight other good horses had gotten into loco weed, it really was hard to deal with. I wasn’t able to get him over it, but you learn life’s lessons out on the ranch and sometimes they’re not pleasant. Like my poem says: “they live on in your heart.”

We raised Quarter Horses, and they’re my favorite. They make excellent ranch horses and they’re smart, dependable, and can do almost anything that’s asked of them. Years ago, a hired hand ran a horse for many miles, and “wind broke” the horse. He was instantly fired, of course, and the horse improved and was put out to pasture, but that horse didn’t quit, even though his health was at risk. That sad episode that I witnessed when the horse brought the rider into the ranch yard has stuck with me, and I was impressed by the heart of that Quarter Horse, along with the selfishness of the hand.

In his later years, my grandfather had a grey horse, named “Jiggs,” that had a few years on him, and my grandpa loved that horse. “Jiggs” had more “cow sense” than any other horse I’ve known. My grandpa taught a lot of us and a lot of horses much about cattle. Well, we were at a corral we had high on a mountain, and were branding the calves when we heard some commotion from outside the pen. The first thing I saw was “Jiggs” had backed away from the fence where he was tied by the reins and was pulling backwards. I thought something had spooked him. Nope, grandpa had loosened the cinch, as we all did when a horse was being rested and grandpa’s saddle must have slipped down on his side. All I saw was “Jiggs” standing there, still tied, with the saddle between him and the post with the reins going through the cinches and to the post. “Jiggs” had taken his own saddle off, all by himself. We all got a good laugh out of that!

 If you could have one dream come true what would it be? 

I have had so many dreams realized that I know I have been blessed! My daughters, grandchildren, and my first great granddaughter are all doing well, making grandpa proud, and seeing my first attempt at publishing my writing, holding that book that I created in my hands. I don’t know if life gets better than that. Being raised on the family ranch, I remember the entire family getting together, usually on Sunday, after morning church services. Granny, mom, Aunt Mary, and the other ladies would have a tremendous meal for the “army” of relatives, and friends to feast on. Those were good times. The dream I’d like to realize more than any others is for the family to be close, like we used to be, but I’m afraid that so much self-interest has overpowered their sense of family. The split of a ranch is especially hard when greed is involved!

If you could tell the world one important thing, what would it be?

The cowboy way of life includes working hard, doing you share of the work, and more, to get the job done. That helps you to like yourself and who you are. Learn your job and do it the best you can, then you will be proud of yourself and realize you may not hear that you’re doing good, but others and yourself will realize this and then you will be a success! Taking pride in what you do makes you better at it.

Any parting advice for writers and horsemen?

This follows the same lines as the last question. I hid my poems for years, believing that real cowboys don’t write poems, hahaha. That was a fallacy and I don’t know where it came from. When I gave away some lyrics I wrote and they became a huge national hit on a major Country Western album, I was angry until a friend convinced me that I was looking at it wrong. I needed to focus on the fact that I could write a number one hit song and that I was a good writer. That’s when my writing improved, greatly. I’m constantly trying to improve my writing, and I edit, edit, edit, but I believe my writing is improving. Realizing the truth, whether we need to learn more about horses, techniques, gear, or about writing, and working on getting better and more knowledgeable is the key. If we’re constantly trying to improve, we will succeed!

How can people keep up with your work?

I have a Facebook page: (Stuart Hooker, author) where I regularly post poems. I have near 2,000 page likes there. A few of the poems are from my first book and a few will probably go into my next book. A handful of my poems are posted on the “Folks” page at cowboypoetry.com, the largest site for cowboy poetry, and a site that I support and hope others will, also. My book, “A Cowboy Spirit” is available at most online bookstores, amazon, barnesandnoble, and others in the hardback, softcover, and ebook editions. It’s also available through my publisher Xlibris and their bookstore. So far, the local newspapers, Silver City Daily Press and Las Cruces/Silver City Sun News are the only print media to cover my poetry. Totsie Slover, a dj at the Deming, NM radio station, KDEM, has interviewed me, but I am still in the process of “building a rep.”

Tell us a little about your plans for the future.

I have been writing for almost fifty years, but have kept it hid until the last fifteen, or so years. I’m sure there are gems of cowboy poetry in warbags, trunks, and other hidden sites that have never been seen by anyone except the author, all over the West and the entire country. It’s unbelievable the number of people who comment to me that they, also write, whether it’s prose or poetry. I only recently, July, 2013, self-published my book with the help of Xlibris, a “vanity publisher” who’s main goal is to sell me “marketing campaigns.” They did a great job on the book, but I had to market it on my own, which hasn’t gone very well, as yet. I believe the internet social networks are the boon of the future in marketing. My Facebook page now has almost 2,000 “likes” and I’ve had a poem that I posted reach over 100,000 “views.” Of course I hope the sales of my book takes off and I, at least, get back the money I paid to have the book published and it would be nice to have a supplement to my retirement in almost five years. I think social media is the way to get the word out, if your work is good! There are also many more “cowboy poetry gatherings” now than there ever have been. When I’m able, I plan on attending more events around the country. It will be nice to meet people from all over that share the same interests as I do, cowboyin,’ horses, and all American values!

stuarthooker

Blogs Galore!

Posted on Updated on

I have to confess, I haven’t kept up the interviews on here as much as I would like – I’ve got a few new ones coming up soon!

In the meantime, I figured I’d give an update on writing & farm news. There’s been quite a bit going on!

Back in the fall, I got asked to be a regular guest blogger on Everybody Needs A Little Romance. The site hosts a good number of well-known romance writers. While they do talk romance and there are book reviews, the neat thing is they talk about every day events as well. It’s neat to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a real romance writer! What’s even better, a few of the guest bloggers are horse gals as well – How cool is that?!

The other news is that I recently launched a website and blog called Cowgirls With Curves. It’s a place where real sized riders can be encouraged and share their struggles and triumphs, and just be recognized and highlighted. Each week I post a new interview so the world can see how many wonderful plus size riders there are out there. The response has been overwhelming, and it’s been fulfilling to see the difference the site has already made. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for CWC!

On the writing front, I’ve been working on a new novella, The Searching Place. Here’s a little hint of what it’s about…

Carter Perkins knows a lot of the local women. What horseshoer doesn’t know a lot of females? But then, Carter knows a bit more about them than what size shoe their horse wears. A bit of a small town player, Carter doesn’t quite know what to think of the fiery red-headed gal from out west. It’s not until he gets himself into a bit of bind that he realizes he needs to change his playboy ways. 

I’m also working on a couple of short stories, another novel, and I’m ironing out the plot for the sequel to Lost Betrayal. I frequently share snippets of my latest WIP on my Facebook Page so be sure to visit it often!

The last bit of news is that I’m fostering a donkey. Yes, you read that correctly! Oscar, as I call him, is a local rescue case that was running loose unattended in the neighborhood. I’m fostering him until we can find him a home with lots of attention. He’s not been gelded and he’s not been handled. Needless to say, he’s been quite the project. He’s made progress though and I’m hoping the work that I’ve been doing with him will help his chances at finding a good home with lots of attention.

Meet Oscar the foster jack donkey!
Meet Oscar the foster jack donkey!
He's teaching me where to scratch!
He’s teaching me where to scratch!
When he first came to us, you couldn't get within 10 feet!
When he first came to us, you couldn’t get within 10 feet!

Stay tuned for the next interview! We’ll be chatting with Cowboy Poet, Stuart Hooker. Visit  his web page at http://www.cowboypoetry.com/stuarthooker.htm .

CHATTING WITH AUTHOR SAM FINDEN

Posted on Updated on

This week we get to spend some time with author Sam Finden. Although he’s young in years, he’s an old soul that’s a true horseman at heart with a gift for telling the best of tales. If you love horses, the rural life, and a good story I think you’ll enjoy reading what he has to say.

418441_10150638633874823_121948071_n

What is a day in your life really like and what is your favorite thing to do?  

A day in my life is fairly uneventful most of the time. If I’m running around, I’m doing something wrong. Every day, I get up and throw on my muck boots straight away- even if I’m in my pajamas- and head out to the barn I built last summer to feed the horses. Then I’ll sit and plan out my day, drinking coffee and having a little breakfast. On work days, I’ll head into town and put in some hours at an architectural millwork shop (Western Spindle), After work, I’ll feed again and just hang out on the fence, then spend a few hours off my feet answering emails or working on a new story. I’ll wrestle around with the dog, play the guitar, or watch hockey. I’m no gourmet cook, so dinner is nothing fancy. Pretty laid back, mostly.

Do you write full time?

Writing full-time would be fantastic, but it’s not realistic for me right now. I’m not inclined to take on freelance work, to write just for the sake of writing, so it’s not feasible. Eventually I hope to have enough fiction work out there and producing to make a living off of book royalties, but that’s a ways out yet. I’m a newbie, with Saddle My Good Horse being my first foray into authorship. There are so many things to learn about promoting a book, so many strategies out there. Once I’ve made enough mistakes, that’s when I expect to be able to keep my ponies fed through income earned by writing.

How many horses do you have and what is the story behind them?

I’ve got two horses- both of them are quarter horses, and both of them are geldings. Chance, my old steady-eddy bay horse, is 18 years old. He came my way with another horse, a little mare named Ula that was old as the hills. She’s not around any more, unfortunately, and for a while, Chance was the only mount I had. He’s a good boy, but hasn’t been taught much more than go and whoa. I’m working with him whenever I can, trying to break a lot of habits he’s got. One good thing about him is that he’s pretty forgiving- I’ll put dudes on him without having to worry. He’s lazy and very in-your-pocket.

Red, my 11 year-old sorrel gelding, came to me for free. A word of warning: nothing is free. A buddy of mine was seeing this girl who couldn’t afford to feed him anymore- she got him as a project- and I was down to one horse, so I offered to take him. He’s actually pretty good- very quick side-to-side and very responsive off the leg. Someone put some good time on this horse, he had a good start – enough so that, even after being a pasture pet for years, he hasn’t forgotten all of it. The problem with Red, and it’s not so much a problem with him as it is with me, is that he’s been the boss for years. I’m not okay with that, so we’ve had some friction. All in all, though, he’s a pretty good horse. Like most people, I’ve just got to prioritize doing the necessary work to help both my horses improve. No more “Brush, saddle, sit, and spur.” More groundwork, more time together is required to really help my ponies be their best.

255845_10150196627459823_3048732_o

What type of stories and blogs do you write? How did you start out writing and what led you to write your book? What’s the story behind it? 

I write mostly outdoor and horse-themed stories, though occasionally I’ll post an opinion piece, on my blog, www.samfinden.com. Really, my book was just a short story about ranch kids that got away from me. Writing short, creative fiction about hunting and fishing has been a hobby of mine since high school. When I got back into horses it was like a drug for me, and writing about them was the next best thing to riding. I like to tell descriptive, educational stories, the kind that people, sometimes, have to reread in order to learn something. When it comes to horses, it’s a natural thing- I want to learn new techniques, new theories. Whether it’s horsemanship, shoeing, packing, rodeo, even driving- I love it all. I want to be around it. And I want to bring readers with me, to point out a thumbs-up dally, then explain why by weaving the lesson into a chunk of dialogue or a historical anecdote.

34861_409045364822_4268522_n

What role do horses play in your life and your writing? 

Horses play a key role in not only my writing, but in my life as well. I’m hopelessly addicted. I’ve found no better cheerleader for your newest story idea, no better counselor when you’re feeling defeated by something, than a horse. People scoff at the thought of an animal, who supposedly lacks the ability to reason, being a friend to a person, who often forgets their own ability to reason. I’ve moved around a lot and been lonesome a lot, but so long as there’s a horse in my barn, I’m a happy camper. They’re always there for you- of course they depend on you for feed and care, so that stands to reason- but there’s more to it. It’s a friendly nip across the fence, a nicker when you walk by. An observant, nonjudgmental nature. The ability to follow you, to trust you, and the confidence boost that provides. If I could bottle it, I’d be a billionaire. Horses and dogs are the finest of God’s creatures and I’m lucky to have them in my life every single day.

If you had to make one very important statement about life what would it be?

One statement or word of advice: Be considerate. Consider your horses. Consider your friends. Consider why you have enemies. Consider the traction on the road and the weight of your words when heard out of context. Consider your options. Consider waiting until cooler heads prevail. Consider God- He considers you every day. Consider spending more time in the present. And consider what you don’t know, then consider learning something useful.

293324_10150352517669823_1881833648_n

What advice would you give other writers looking to become published? 

I’m not necessarily the most qualified voice to recommend avenues toward becoming a published author, as I chose to self-publish. I can, however, tell of things that I’d like to/ will do differently the next time around, whether I self-publish or go the traditional route.

*I will, absolutely, set aside some time and money to farm out my cover design. Some of the templates that Amazon’s Createspace outfit offer are decent- I’d like to think that my second cover is well designed- but a discerning critic or reader may be looking for something much better. Good cover design is worth spending money on.

*Editing is in the same vein- you may think that your work will somehow be diminished by running it through an editor. I disagree. Reading through my book, a few glaring errors jump off the page and smack me upside the head. That alone is reason enough to hire an editor. I’m proud of my story and proud of the book, but I’m not thrilled with the choices I made in a few spots. A qualified editor would have solved that.

*I think an email list, a popular blog, and a sound marketing strategy are absolutely crucial. My book went out with zero fanfare, I just kind of published it and that was that. Had I possessed a list of qualified folks who knew me, wanted to read what I’d written, and were invested in me enough to do reviews, to recommend my work, I’d have been miles ahead. And, when you’re writing horse books, miles are a long way ahead!

1973670_10152261015519823_7774642016407812379_o

What inspires you to write? Any special writing rituals or writing habits? 

The main thing that inspires me to write is, typically, an experience I’ve had. It’s not always an exact translation, however. For example: My cousin and I go hunting in the back country for elk. We’ll load up backpacks with enough gear to get us through a few days and proceed to work our tails off until we succeed or give up. Several of these trips will put a lot of blog-post fodder in a guy’s head, and eventually it spills out in a story. Full Curl Optimism is one of those stories- a composite of things learned and experiences had, translated into fiction, then applied with a twist- in this case, I substitute Rocky Mountain Elk for Bighorn Sheep, and I give it an underlying battle against depression.

I like to start a story on paper. Usually, I’ll write a few paragraphs in pencil in a spiral-bound notebook, give it a rest for a day or two, then start typing. This isn’t always the case, though. Sometimes, when I’m really feeling it, I can just hammer away on the keyboard and, when I look up, there’s a rough draft. It’s times like those that I wonder, “Why am I not doing this all day, every day?”

One thing that I’ve been working on, and it’s hard, is that I rest a draft for as long as I can stand. Coming at a story with a new set of eyes, hopefully in less-rose-colored glasses, has kept me from posting some real junk. Sometimes the story can be salvaged and sometimes it can’t, but either is better than putting yourself out there with a lousy piece. So, maybe, that’s something to think on for people who are interested in writing.

What’s your favorite tale from all your travels? 

My favorite tale? That’s a tough one- I’ve been all over creation with all sorts of characters. Here are a few, though:

Once, while I was working as a wrangler/bus driver/snowmobile guide/ cook/dishwasher/sleigh driver/superduper cowboy at a day-dude outfit in Steamboat Springs, I slid a shuttle bus off a cliff in front of my guests. It was a real banner day in this guy’s life, that’s for sure.

Another time, I got hollered at by Federal agents for walking along in a restricted area at the Hoover Dam- I had no idea that I wasn’t supposed to be there.

In Minnesota, I was training a quarter pony named Twain that started at a lope and went up from there. I never claimed to be a great horse trainer, mind you. Anyway, this pony was all go. The boss picked him up cheap at the sale barn and I can see why. Good little run on him, but no handle. Once, while running flat out across a stubble field, I reached up and put my fingers through the ring on the bit, cranked his head all the way around to my stirrup. He never let up- just kept on running. We should have named that pony Forrest.

Two winters ago, in Montana, where I currently live, my borrowed mare and I somersaulted down a drifted hillside and came to rest facing one another, nose to nose. She was not amused. Later that day, we rode to within 100 yards of a huge herd of elk on three separate occasions- on barren prairie. Pretty cool.

So it’s tough to choose one tale, but suffice it to say that horses are an important part of my life, and every time I head out on horseback there’s the potential for a new story to take shape.

SMGH New Cover Art

How can people find out about your book and keep up with your work?

Thanks for the opportunity to talk a little bit about what makes me tick. If folks want to learn more about me, they’re welcome to head over to www.samfinden.com and follow along. From there, they can sign up for my email list to be notified whenever I post something new. They can also take a look at a couple of videos I’ve put together, or click on the link to my listing for Saddle My Good Horse. It’s a clean, educational book for young adults on up, and it’s something that those hard-to-buy-for teenage boys will actually enjoy reading (although there are no vampires or werewolves or anything). It’s horses, cattle, mountains, pretty much.

You can follow Sam on Facebook and on Twitter as well.

Talking With Shanna Hatfield & Learning about Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund

Posted on Updated on

This week we are chatting with Pendleton Petticoats romance series author Shanna Hatfield. She’s quite an entertaining author to interview and one that I think many rural folks can relate to.

From Nov. 7-Dec. 24, Shanna will be donating 10% of the net proceeds from all her book sales to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund which is a fund to help injured cowboys. Shanna is also hosting a Facebook Party with prizes this week. I’ve listed the details at the end of the interview along with ways to in

Shanna Hatfield 5x7 (2)

What is it like to live in your boots for a day?

Day to day, I treat my writing like a career, even though I work from home. I get up early, respond to emails, post to my blog and social media outlets then try to get in some exercise before I get ready for the day. After that, I generally spend the rest of the day in my office writing or editing. Some days I put in as many as twelve hours if I’m in the writing “mode.” My husband, Captain Cavedweller, refers to the mode as the times when I’m so involved in a story I forget about everything else like fixing dinner and making sure he has clean socks. On days when I’m editing or working on promotions, I like to cook and often experiment with recipes (you can find my latest and greatest culinary adventures at savvyentertaining.com) I’ve also gotten into western photography recently. My niece kindly provides much of my subject matter with her horses and cattle.

 Are you a full time writer?

A little more than a year ago, I quit my job in the corporate world to pursue writing full time. My comfortable boots replaced the high heels I wore every day and I love every minute of my new life. I know I am very blessed and fortunate to be able to get up every morning excited to work at something I love so much. I don’t regret a minute spent pursuing my dreams.

 What role do horses play in your life and your books? Any good horse stories? 

I grew up on a farm with cattle, horses, and an older brother who worked on remote ranches next door to nowhere. Between the stories he’d bring home when he’d come to visit and the fact I always had a horse to ride, horses and cowboys play a big role in both my historical and contemporary sweet western romances.

I’ve got many horse stories, but one my family feels compelled to tell everyone happened when I was four with a red pony named Dynamite. I wanted to spend every waking moment with the pony. One afternoon, while I was supposed to be taking a nap, I snuck outside and around to the room where we kept the tack. I couldn’t carry my little saddle, but I managed to get the bareback pad and drag it out to Dynamite’s pasture. I slid it on his back and tightened the cinch then led him by the halter over to a stump so I could climb on. Things went along fine for the first few minutes as he walked around then he let out a big breath and the pad started to slide. By the time my mother realized I was missing and made a beeline out to the pasture, I was clinging upside down to the pad with my head dangling beneath Dynamite’s belly. After that, Mom put quite a damper on my horse-riding adventures.

What made you decide to donate a portion of your proceeds to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund? 

When I was researching details for the first book in the Rodeo Romance series, The Christmas Cowboy, I learned about the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund through Rick Foster, program director of the Justin Sports Medicine Team. In the book, my hero, Tate Morgan, is a saddle bronc rider who gets hurt at the national finals rodeo. Trying to get all the details right is what led me to JCCF. It’s such a great organization. JCCF is a non-profit organization that assists rodeo athletes who sustain catastrophic injuries and are unable to compete for an extended period.  I’m on a blog tour all this week with the Cowboys and Christmas tour to kick off a promotion I’m doing with the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund. Now through Dec. 24, I’ll donate ten percent of the net proceeds from all my book sales to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund.

 What inspires you to write the stories that you write? What is your muse? 

I find inspiration everywhere – even standing in line at the grocery store. My over-active imagination rarely shuts down. Captain Cavedweller is a great sounding board and I most always come up with story ideas when we go for a drive. There’s something about forcing him to be a captive audience, trapped in a vehicle with no escape, that gets the ol’ creative juices flowing.

 Do you have any particular writing rituals? 

As a visual person, before I start writing a new story, I gather photos of people who are my ideal of the characters. If the characters have pets (dogs, horses, cats), I try to find photos of those along with landscapes, house plans, anything that helps me visualize the story and my characters.

Any parting words of wisdom for those looking to be published writers? 

Never give up on your dreams! You can do it!

 If you’d like to find out more about Shanna’s books see below — you’ll notice she has a Facebook Party coming up soon with prizes! 

You’re Invited to a PARTY!

Shanna-Hatfield-Nov-Blog-Tour (2)

 You’re invited to join in the online Cowboys & Christmas Facebook Party Thursday, Nov. 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (PST). Drop in anytime during those four hours to enter to win great prizes, chat with guest authors, and more! Here’s the link to the party:  http://tinyurl.com/cowboychristmasparty

Enter to Win Prizes!

As part of the blog tour, I’m giving away some exciting prizes. To enter the drawing for an Amazon gift card, autographed books, chocolates, original western artwork, and more fun goodies, fill out this form. http://tinyurl.com/cowboychristmasprizes

Find Shanna’s books at:

Amazon | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Apple

Follow Shanna online:

ShannaHatfield | Facebook | Pinterest | Goodreads | You Tube | Twitter

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Shanna-Hatfield/e/B0056HPPM0

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shanna-Hatfield/e/B0056HPPM0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1391485546&sr=8-1

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/shanna-hatfield

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/shannahatfield

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/shanna-hatfield/id450458896?mt=11

Website: http://shannahatfield.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorShannaHatfield

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/shannahatfield/boards/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4981400.Shanna_Hatfield

You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ShannaHatfield?feature=watch

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ShannaHatfield

shanna hatfield2shanna hatfield