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.
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.
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.
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;…
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!
This time we chat with Equine Photographer Anna Kemp who lives in the UK. She’s a horse gal with a fantastic eye for capturing just the right moment in photographs. I think you’ll enjoy finding out more about this budding photographer and seeing her work.
- Tell us a little bit about what a day in your life is like.
Since we are still enjoying the summer holidays here, a day in the life at the moment typically involves horses, horses, and more horses! (And the occasional sleep in…) I spend as much time as I can with my own horse, Freddie, schooling and hacking out when the lovely English weather permits. When I’m not at the yard you can usually find me volunteering at my local RDA, or out on a shoot! I attend local equestrian events and travel to different yards around the area when people ask me to do a shoot. This will soon begin to change however as I embark on my final year of A-levels – scary stuff! There’s a lot of studying to come but I hope to still be able to fit this around my riding and photography!
- Are you a full time photographer? If you work at another job tell us about that as well.
I am unable to pursue photography as a full time profession as of yet since I am still a student, however, I do conduct shoots for people and their horses all over my area for a small fee – we all have to start somewhere, right? As mentioned previously, I also volunteer at my local RDA yard as often as I can which is an extremely rewarding experience when I get to share the joy on the rider’s faces when they get to trot for the first time, or go for a walkabout on their special pony outdoors! In the future I hope to be able to combine my passion for writing, photography and, of course, horses to be able to work for an equestrian publication.
- How did you get into photography?
For as long as I can remember, my dad has enjoyed photography as a hobby so my interest was probably sparked by him! I got my first little Kodak camera at the age of about six and it could only take up to twenty photos at a time – though I never let that stop me! From that moment on, wherever I went, the camera went. Just over a decade and several cameras later and I’m onto my first bridge camera which I got for my 16th birthday (Canon SX40 – DSLRs still terrify me a little bit!) From a young age I have also entered some of my work into an annual local agricultural show and always enjoy learning from other people’s expertise there!
- Out of all the pictures you’ve taken what is your favourite and why?
I think my all time favourite photo has to be one taken when I was still taking riding lessons and helping out at the yard, about two or three years ago. I had brought along my little pink Lumix to take some snaps of the horses and, on passing my all-time favourite ride, a 14.2 Welsh D named Topper; I decided this would be an ideal opportunity to practice the elusive macro mode! He stood there calmly as could be as I came right up close to his cheek to try and get a good shot of his eye – this was something I’d often seen in equine artistry and websites and the like, so I wanted to replicate the style as best I could! An Old English proverb states that the ‘eyes are the windows to the soul’ and I think this is part of the reason why I ended up loving this photo so much and why an edited, more cartoon version of the image is the hallmark of Hoofprints. Particularly since Topper still is one of the greatest horses I’ve ever had the fortune to meet, this photo will always hold a special place in my heart!
- What role do horses play in your life and in your photography? How do they inspire you?
Horses have played a huge role in my life for approaching ten years now and last year my sister and I decided to take the leap from taking lessons and helping out at our yard once a week, to loaning our own horse. We have now found Freddie, or ‘Fantasy Feeling,’ a handsome TB gelding who we have on part loan 3 days a week; though through these summer months it has tended to work out more often than that (we’re not complaining!). He enjoys dressage and together I hope that we can attend some local competitions next season!
The work of Monty Roberts and Kelly Marks is of particular interest to me and so I try to incorporate their techniques and advice wherever possible. A special friend gave me ‘Perfect Confidence’ for my 11th birthday and was even lucky enough to be able to include a postcard of Pie signed by Kelly! I think it was at that moment I knew that I wanted to be involved with Intelligent Horsemanship. Next summer I hope to attend one of the Intelligent Horsemanship courses to expand my knowledge of their amazing concepts further.
I also attend as many equine events as possible, including HOYS in 2012 and Blair Horse Trials last year – I’m delighted to say I am able to return to both for 2014! Events like these also provide a great opportunity to practice my photography and it was from this, as well as taking photos of my friends and their horses, that inspired me to set up Hoofprints. For me there is no greater joy than being able to capture the beauty of horses, whoever they are and wherever they come from, to enjoy at any time at all!
- How can people find out more about your work? List your website, blog, facebook, twitter, etc.
- Any parting words of wisdom for those that are interested in becoming a photographer?
Work hard – and don’t give up! I realise that probably couldn’t sound more cliché but it’s the best advice I can honestly give. Showcase your work wherever you can, gather critique and keep practicing! It doesn’t matter what kind of camera or software you have, providing you know how to use it. There are many free editing websites out there as well as video tutorials on how to get the best from your camera which can be extremely helpful. Don’t forget it is usually the smallest, most simple things that can make the biggest difference!