For the Love of Writing and Horses

I’m just coming down from a “work weekend” retreat with the fabulous Laura Davis, three full days of quiet, uninterrupted writing. The setting was a beautiful mountaintop home with windows that framed forest, mist, and sky. It’s the kind of view that muffles the chaos in my head and gives me space to dream about my next book.

Every day I took a walk, following wild turkeys, to the handful of horses boarded down the road. One morning my bootsteps spooked a young gelding standing in a pasture as I came over the rise.  He snorted, eyes wide, and attempted to bolt, but he slipped in the mud from last night’s rain. His escape was a slippery slog, something more akin to skating.

I stood at the fence and spoke softly, apologizing for interrupting his nap, and he turned his head in my direction – the fog of his breath beautiful in the cold air. He stood his ground, head high, furry ears forward, and watched me. I told him he was brave and that he reminded me of horses I was reading about in my research on WWI who endured mud and fear and conditions beyond belief.  He stood there, his forelegs splattered with mud and listened.

I told him that a million horses had served in that war, that he probably had ancestors who were rounded up and shipped to Europe because England and France didn’t have enough. They even took wild mustangs from the American plains. My voice caught as I told him this, because the idea of taking their freedom cut me like a knife.

I wiped my eyes and clucked in the way you do when you want a horse to move, and his shoulders relaxed, head lowered, and he began moving toward me. It was as if he was just waiting for my invitation. He was larger than he had appeared mired in the mud – maybe 16 hands, young and well-muscled. His mottled grey coat was thick with winter.

He lifted his head over the top rail of the fence and I smiled. I said, “Well good morning to you too,” as his velvety muzzle tickled my palm. Why hadn’t I thought to bring him a carrot?

I told him my next book will include a character named Andrew, who will join the Army Veterinary Corps instead of becoming a soldier.  Wait, what? I hadn’t even known I was going to write that. It hit me that novels are very mysterious things.  Characters come to you fully formed, and it’s like – of course they’re in the story!

Suddenly a rafter of wild turkeys rushed out from the bushes, complaining, and in a marvelous show of energy, my beautiful equine friend spun around, gave a little buck, and galloped in the other direction.  I laughed at how he dismissed me just like that – and then marched back to my story.

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