Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dany Hancock, Rides on the Wild Side

Miss Dany Hancock has lived in Botswana and worked in the horse safari industry, one way or another, for 17 years.  She lives in Maun on a smallholding with her boyfriend Ernie, a pilot who also works with her on the technical and social media side of her company, with their dogs, horses and hens. 
Originally from the UK, though not from a horsey family background, her wanderlust and passion for horses led her to the Mecca of horseback safaris: the Okavango Delta.  Working with the horses and leading safaris on horseback progressed into sales and marketing, creating her own specialized and personalized horseback safari and adventure travel company: Rides On The Wild Side
In conjunction with the promotion and sales of professional and exciting horse holiday destinations, Dany is also involved in the popular safari industry at the very heart of southern Africa’s top safari destinations including: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia – and is delighted to create special, personalized safari industries for those who prefer to be in a jeep rather than on a horse.  Her philosophy is to match the destination to the client from an independent and  unbiased standpoint, which she believes is as important as matching the rider to the correct horse on a ride. 
Dany often accompanies safaris and travels extensively worldwide to promote the rides and safaris.  She and Ernie will be at Equitana Melbourne, Australia 20th-23rd November, Stand Number: 525, so do feel free to drop by the stand. Contact Dany for more info!
Welcome Dany!

When was your first encounter with a horse?

I can’t remember my first encounter exactly, but I’ve  always been “horse mad” !  I started riding when I was 6.

Do you have a favorite horse breed?

This is a very tricky one but if I had to narrow it down to one breed it would have to be the Thoroughbred.  They are incredibly versatile and often underestimated, in my opinion.  They are bright, brave and when given the right kind of training and input, offer the most incredible ride in terms of character, comfort as well as a bit of pace.  My favorite story to tell is about 2 THB’s – in 2  different Okavango camps – at 2 different times....  (Please bear in mind the area of the Okavango Delta is the size of Switzerland or the US state of Massachusetts!).

Safari horses in the Delta are free to graze during “siesta” time – usually within the constraints of an electric fence.  Very occasionally the herd gets spooked –by passing animals such as zebra, giraffe and elephant – and in excitement and with the flight instinct kicking in, they break through the fence.  The challenge, of course, is to then get the horses back and after a few hours most are found or make their own way home.  However, if the excitement is great, then it can mean the horses go further and 2 THBs in separate incidents, found their way back 2 weeks and 4 weeks respectively!  Apart from being a bit lean they both were in good form and walked straight up to safari-workers (not even their grooms) and settled back into their work without any trouble.  Both of them were, however, well-handled and cared for from a very early age and just took the adventure in their stride as if it were an extraordinarily long safari! 

Since then, my motto is “Never underestimate a Thoroughbred” !

How many horses do you currently stable?

I personally own 3 horses in a small yard of 6 which I run.  The safari horse herds vary from 20-60+ depending on their location and the type of ride and experience they offer.

Describe the perfect horse...

Another difficult one to answer!  In truth there really isn’t such a thing as a perfect horse – much as there isn’t a perfect person or car!!!  However, a horse that appeals to me is one which has some character, is keen to learn and enjoys his/her work.  Conformation, looks, and breeding are quite low on the list for me!

Where is your favorite place on Earth to ride?
I honestly believe that there is nothing quite like riding in the Okavango Delta and for me, personally, it will always be “number one” for the variety of horses to ride, the incredible phenomenon of the Okavango, the excitement and anticipation of riding in the remote wilderness where all manner of exotic African animals habituate.  From splashing through flooded plains alongside a herd of red lechwe antelope or Jurassic-like giraffe, to quietly threading through palm islands silently tracking elephant and buffalo, the thrill is immense!
Have you ridden the Marwari horses in India?
Yes, I have!  I was struck by their majesty and great temperament and how surprisingly different they are from other breeds that inhabit desert and arid regions – such as the Arab.  They are stockier and whilst they do have a look at things and are alert, they are very sensible and there is no spookiness and, of course, their lyre-shaped ears are magic!  India is a special destination: as much about the culture of the people, their love of horses and how the balance of colonialism and traditionalism through both the British and Indians’ love of horses, makes certain regions of the country, such as Rajasthan, so very interesting and special.  I am riding to the Pushkar Fair in November 2015 with a group if you’re interested!!!
[Yes, I want to go… J].

How do you pick riding trails/destinations?

The most important factor is professionalism, I believe, and whilst there are many options available - fortunately, most of them very good, there are, unfortunately, some that really should not be in operation.  Priority is that the horses are well cared for and are well mannered and that clients are looked after.  Matching the right rider to a ride is as important as matching a rider to a horse and impartiality is important when recommending a ride to a client.  Every ride will tell you that they are “the best” but that is subjective, of course!  The personalities that run, look after, and guide the rides will make or break a safari experience or riding adventure.  As such, I spend a lot of time visiting rides and getting testimonials from clients to ensure that they operate within reasonable constraints and to ensure that we exceed our clients’ expectations.

What should I pack when on horseback safari?

It depends a little on the time of year, but most important to remember are: khaki/neutral colors (you don’t want to “stand out” when you’re on safari), a little camera, binoculars, your favorite riding kit and a hat with shade.  If it’s a cooler time of year then thermals are a great way to keep warm as dressing in layers is recommended and if it’s during rainy season, a good light-weight waterproof!

Do you have a favorite riding anecdote to share?

There are many!  The safaris are always great fun as well as interesting, with the potential of an “up-close” encounter with wild game.  I was camp manager at the time we had a lovely wedding in camp and for the days before the ceremony (yes, the bride and groom got married on horseback!). We had been searching everywhere for the elusive pack of wild dogs that we knew were in the area.  We had tracked and tracked on horseback, then got in vehicles but had no luck and with the excitement of the wedding, the wild dog side of things became less of a priority.  But not to them, it seems, as when the ceremony had finished and I was bringing (more) champagne from the kitchen area to the party by the mess tent, I was almost knocked down by an impala being chased down by 3 wild dogs.  Needless to say, we all forgot about the champagne and in our fancy non-safari gear, jumped into the vehicle to follow them!  We found them and that sighting was the highlight of the safari!

Do you have advice for novice riders?

Yes, absolutely!  Being a novice rider is only a stage and we all start off as novices.  There are many riders who have taken training to specifically meet the standards required to ride on safari.  We are not looking for technical finesse but riders who are competent and confident enough to ride a well-mannered horse at all paces. By this we mean: balanced enough not to fall off easily and understanding enough of a sensible horse to allow him to do his job in partnership with you.  Recommended are lessons in an arena, combined with out-rides including canters, perhaps some jumping/games to really ensure that you are used to the feel of a horse moving beneath you and maintaining your own balance in harmony.  As much time in the saddle will only benefit. This also applies to competent or experienced riders – do take time to get riding fit before your adventure.  It will be so much more fun.

What does horsemanship mean to you?

Harmony with the horse: that is to say: Having the humility to know that as a rider or horse owner you don’t know it all, whilst working on broadening your equestrian knowledge from all available sources to increase your experience and maximize on the relationship you have with your horse or horse in the most positive and fun way possible.

Connect with Dany…

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rosie Napravnik Signature Hat Collection

Jockey Rosie Napravnik wearing the Teddy Top Hat
by Maggie Mae Designs®
America's sensational Jockey Rosie Napravnik and MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® are teaming up for another effort to help Old Friends!
Introducing the new Rosie Signature HatCollectionwith a portion of the sales going to the retired racehorses of Old Friends!

View a stunning photo shoot by EquiSport Photos at historic Keeneland of Rosie modeling the three new hats in the collection. Maggie Mae Designs ® Proprietor, Sally Faith Steinmann, has created a webpage with some stunning images of Keeneland to make the page fun for visitors…

Connect with Sally and her beautiful creations for your next Derby, Garden Party, Social Gathering, or Special Event! 
Sally Faith Steinmann

Web Address -
Derby hats –
Email -
Blog Address -
Facebook -
Facebook for “Hats Off to the Horses” fundraiser -
Twitter -
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Rosie wearing the Jordan by Maggie Mae Designs®

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ruthie Lee Willis, Author and Poet

From Tennessee, USA, Ruthie Lee Willis is an author, creating prose and poetry from her heart.  Flowing with a wealth of emotion, Ruthie’s poetry is inspired by her rich experiences. Her poetry speaks of the pain of losing her only child, of failed relationships, of love, and of faith.   
Ruthie affirms, “When life seems to turn its back on you, don’t blame yourself. Look at the bright side and look at it through a different perspective. Confront your fears and your problems. Do the best that you can do. When you think there isn’t any more you can do, just strive on and live—you will make it.”
Welcome Ruthie!

What drives your inspiration to write?

I am driven to write when I'm in a deep thought, and my heart makes me want to write. For example I can be watching T.V., and I can be driven to write. Like if there's something about the movie, that strikes my soul. Once or twice I was having a conversation over the phone with someone, I wrote a poem (Prose). Never Alone and love letters. Or I can be going through something, then I have urge to write.
Does writing help you to understand life events?
Writing doesn't help me understand life events. Writing helps me deal with life events. It's a method to clear my head. Otherwise it helps me cope, it’s my way to get things off my chest.
How would you define our purpose on earth?
Our purpose on earth is to fulfill our gift or gifts that God has given us. He only knows how long that journey will take.
Do you believe in life after death?
That’s a hard question to answer. There has been so much research done on life after death. I really don't know exactly. What I do know lately, the paranormal has been capitalized on. The way they interpret it, it's kind of spooky. If there was such thing, as life after death, I sure would love to see my son. I personal don't capitalize on life after death. Everyone is dying to live, and living to die. I just try to live life to the fullest.
Where do you like to write?
There isn't a particular place that I can say I like to write. I can write just about anywhere. It seems like I write a lot when I'm alone. Which is often lately, so writing eases my soul.

How do you maintain thoughts and ideas?  
If I get an urge to write, I'll grab my iPhone, and go to the notes, and I start to write. Sometimes I may get an idea, such as a couple of words. I'll write them down, and go back to them later. Majority of the time, I just start writing non-stop. I guess you can say I free write. It's like it's insane when I write, I just start putting it down. It's out of my control. But at the end of the day it all makes sense when I'm finished. I use my iPhone to hold my thoughts. I wrote a book in 1 day 1/2 on my iPhone.
What are you currently writing?
Currently I am writing poems and proses to add to my manuscripts. Which are called Heart Songs from the Soul and Message from Above.
I have a completed manuscript; it's called The Magical Garden, which I wrote in 1-1/2 days on my iPhone. The title came from a little girl. I asked her to give me a title and I would write a book, using the title. That's was what she wanted. Actually, I had no idea how to start. I put the title down. Then, later on I created the substance, from the title.
What are you currently reading?
I am reading Mocking Jay, by Suzanne Collins, which I have almost completed. I recently purchased a book, Ask and it is Given- Learning to Manifest your Desires, by Esther and Jerry Hicks; and I am reading The Teachings of Abraham.
Do you have a favorite poem of your own?
Yes, I have a favorite poem of my own…
By Ruthie Lee Willis
Poetry is a mere expression,
a deep-ness
from the
To pronounce
a feeling,
or maybe
a thought.
Which may
seem to
But not!!
Just a way
to survive.
Life is
what it is.
We must
live and
keep living,
no matter
the words,
are things
of life.
To those
who read,
you can
make it.
The strength
is divine.
The things
have been
put down.
And now
it's done.
In hoping
It have
The words
can be
turned into
The lines
the fight
that is

I wrote this poem which could be interpreted as if I was totally depressed. But not… it’s just expression.  Just to clear my mind of a thought or a situation.
Who is your favorite poet/author?
My favorite author/poet is Maya Angelou. My favorite poem by her is…
I know Why the Cage Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
List 10 things that your fans may not know about you…
I lost my only child through gang violence. Thereafter, I journaled for many years. A friend said I should write a book. I was too shy to do so. Due to I was afraid of what people would think about me. My journal was my ripe thoughts. I thought about it, I went ahead and wrote a book. Thinking I could help people by reading my book. Knowing that, they can make it through those mountains and valleys.  My Life in Times and I Made It (2008). The book is written in poems and prose telling my story. I also wrote a book Poems and Prose from the Heart (2009). I have had book signings, and continue to schedule book signing events.
I was a victim of domestic violence.
I graduated from college in 2013. I made honors of Cum Laude. My degree is in Accounting.
During the time I was in college, I injured my back. I never sought medical attention. Now I am disabled due to my injury. Unfortunately I am unable to pursue my career.
I am an aspiring author/poet pursuing my passion. ("As said, one door closes another one opens"). I'm not well known yet.
I'm a hopeless romantic who has given up on love. But I write about, how I dream it should be.
I want to find out a way to help the homeless.
I volunteered at the United Way, after putting in my 90 hours for my internship for college and received a plaque Volunteer of the Year 2012-2013.
I was a correctional officer for ten years.
I love to inspire people. I love to see them smile, because I made a difference...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sam Griffiths, World Equestrian Extraordinaire

Equestrian Extraordinaire Sam Griffiths

Author, equestrian, my friend and colleague, Roland Clarke, recently had the great opportunity to interview Sam Griffiths and Team Griffiths. Thanks, Roland, for sharing this amazing interview; Congratulations Sam and Team Griffiths on your amazing performance!

Roland Clarke’s Interview with Sam Griffiths and Team Griffiths

I am very pleased and immensely honored to be interviewing Australian Sam Griffiths who on May 11th 2014 won the prestigious Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials on Dinah Posford and Juliet Carter’s 11-year-old mare Paulank Brockagh (Brocks). This was Sam’s first four-star eventing title, landing £80,000 pounds (US $134,000), and the Mitsubishi Motors Trophy.

Watching one of the most demanding Badmintons, I was elated when Sam and Brocks jumped from twenty-fifth after the dressage phase, to first after surviving the attrition of a tough cross-country and having just one fence down in the final show jumping phase. This was not only because Sam’s such a great guy but also because he was riding a mare. As readers of my novel “Spiral of Hooves” will know, mares hold a special place in my eventing world.

When Sam became the sixth Australian winner in Badminton’s 65-year history, he said, “This is the ultimate dream. When I was a little boy we used to wait for the video to come out to watch the highlights of Badminton. To win it is the completion of that dream.”

So Sam, where did you grow up, and what was your first encounter with a horse?

Originally from Melbourne, I am the middle sibling of a family of three boys, I grew up on a farm on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula and have been involved with horses all my life showing my parent's homebred Welsh ponies and being very much part of the Pearcedale Pony Club, which to this day still holds its rallies on my parent's farm. Along with both my brothers I started taking eventing very seriously in my teenage years and had quite a bit of success with young rider competitions including finishing 2nd at the notoriously tough Gawler CCI*** in Australia at 18 years old. I continued to event whilst studying at Monash University, gaining a BA Honors degree in Geography.

You moved to the UK in 1995, the same year I started the South East Eventers League, and also when I first interviewed you. What made you move to the UK?

Well, I slightly fell into it really! I had been travelling with a friend and had run out of money so needed to find some work – quick! I had heard of a job as a groom with Blyth Tait so thought that could be an option for a month or two to get together enough money to continue my travels...I never did continue my travels! I realized that my passion lay in eventing and it was obvious that the UK was the place to be to make this my career.

Where were you based, and what made you choose to move to Dorset with one of our best eventing photographers?

So I started off grooming for Blyth , which was an amazing experience as his attention to detail and professionalism is second to none but really I wanted to be a rider not a groom and after a while I moved to Matt Ryan’s yard to be his ‘stable jockey’. It was here that I began to build up a little business and got one or two rides of my own which was enough to ‘go it alone’ so when I heard of the opportunity to base myself in David Hamilton’s yard I grabbed it as it would enable me to have more competition rides and grow my business further – although at this stage I only had one saddle to my name! Nevertheless, one thing led to another and some fantastic horses came my way, including Private Colin with whom I came 6th at Badminton and was reserve for the Athens Olympics.

As my business grew I found myself with too many horses and not enough stables so I made the big move to Hoplands Equestrian Centre – an amazing facility with everything every event rider could ever wish for – indoor, outdoor, gallops, cross-country schooling course, accommodation etc.! It cost me an arm and a leg to be there but it was worth it! Shortly before moving here I had met my now wife Lucy – we still joke that she only liked me for the facilities at Hoplands (she was still competing from her family home on the Isle of Wight! So when she saw Hoplands she moved in pretty quickly!! ) . However, as much as Hoplands was the most fantastic training facility, the rent was beginning to cripple us and we realized we could put that rent money towards a mortgage so after 5 years at Hoplands, we started looking for our own place...we originally looked in the central south area but the prices were huge so we ended up looking further west where we could get more value for money and that’s when we found our perfect Symphony Farm on the Dorset/Somerset border.

The Posford family has been great supporters throughout your career. How long have you been riding for Dinah Posford and her daughter Juliet Carter? How long have you been riding Brocks for them? Did you ride her in her first events?

Dinah Posford was my first EVER owner – her daughter, Jules, had been having lessons with Matt Ryan but had not wanted to carry on eventing. Dinah, however, had become hooked on the sport and wanted to see the horse she had brought for Jules progress and so I got asked to ride it as Matt was too busy! So that was around 1995/96. Brocks came to me as a 7 year old, having competed at novice level in Ireland with Heidi Hamilton. She progressed well and that year, having only been with me a few months, finished 8th at Le Lion D’Angers CCI** World Young Horse Championships – Dinah Posford had seen her out competing with me and liked her so much that she brought her just before we went to Le Lion.

You have clearly built up a great rapport with Brocks saying, “She is one tough nut with a massive heart. She tries and tries and tries. I cannot speak highly enough of her”. What else is special about her?

She is incredibly powerful and scopey – I have never, yet, felt her reach her limit in her jumping – she really would jump anything I pointed her out and just wants to go between the flags. She is incredibly brave and bold – so much so that I often have to really ‘anchor’ her on course! She just has a real ‘no fuss’ attitude to life and takes everything in her stride and funnily enough so goes even better when she’s in season!

I believe Brocks is only the third mare to win Badminton, which in many ways is because the greater proportion of event horses are geldings. That may be because too many riders deem that mares are temperamental and difficult. Yet from talking to those riders that have a special rapport with mares – from Open European Champion Lucy Thompson with Welton Romance, to 2007 Badminton winner Lucinda Fredericks with Headley Britannia – they can be exceptional. What can a mare bring to a partnership?

If you click with a mare, keep them confident and gain their trust – I do believe that they try harder for you than many geldings. Yes, you have to have a ‘way’ with mares – you can’t dominate them, you have to negotiate but if you understand that and the mare wants to work with you then they can be exceptional.

One major advantage of successfully competing on a mare has to be her breeding potential, a huge drawback with geldings. Does the Posford Family have any breeding plans for Paulank Brockagh as a proven mare? Are they considering embryo transplant (ET) so Brocks can stay in competition work or is ET a problem? Of course there is the more expensive even controversial cloning route, which even geldings can go down. [For readers’ information, “the ET process involves breeding a donor mare to a stallion and then transferring the resulting embryo into a recipient mare which carries the foal to term and nurses it until weaning.”]

Brocks has actually got two embryo transfers opportunities now - one from Burghley and another offer has come since Badminton however the Posfords do not want to rush into anything – her focus at the moment needs to be on competing – she’s at her prime and there is plenty of time to go down the breeding route. Even though ET has proved very successful, each mare takes it differently and the last thing we would want to do would be to change anything about her. All the pros and cons would have to be very carefully looked into before any decisions were made. Having said that, if she goes to WEG this year, then there is a long gap until the start of the 2015 season so who knows...maybe that would be a good time...

I’ve been implying that the win is down to you and Brocks, but a successful eventing challenge requires a great deal of support in all weathers, from grooms to owners. Tell us about the unsung heroines (and heroes) of Team Griffiths that were crucial to the Badminton win, and will be central to your World EquestrianGames campaign. How will the Team prepare? [Sam and Brocks are one of the six horse and rider combinations selected to comprise Australia's World EquestrianGames (WEG) Eventing Team.]

Well this really is a team sport and I simply could not compete successfully without my back up team – so crucial to my success is my headgirl, Imogen Mercer, who not only runs the yard on a daily basis but also comes to all the major competitions with me. She knows each horse inside out and knows me very well now too! She is incredibly calm, capable and organized, which allows me to concentrate on my riding – not worrying about whether I’ve placed a recent feed order or whether I have the right tack packed for the next event. She is exceptional at her job and we are very lucky to have her. Then I have the main core of the home team which consists of 6 or 7 grooms/working pupils during the season and I have a very good stable jockey too – a young French rider called Gireg Le Coz who helps school the horses at home when I am out competing. Each and every one of the home team is fundamental to my success and keeping the show on the road month after month.

Then there is my wife Lucy – having previously ridden at three star level before having our son, Ollie, she too helps school the horses at home whilst I am away but also does the bulk of the admin work – entries, invoicing, booking in training sessions, liaising with sponsors, owners, press and supporting the staff here on site - more often than not she is the one dealing with any issues or problems that crop up as I am on the road so much (I’m also not great at answering my phone as I’m usually on a horse so everyone calls Lucy!). So what with that, looking after Ollie and somewhere in there doing her photography work, life is pretty full on for Lucy too! As well as all these people that keep things going for me I do of course have some wonderful owners who have supported me through thick and thin and were all so thrilled with the Badminton result as many of them have supported me right from the early days and I am so grateful to them for sticking by me through all these years.

Finally, I have two exceptional trainers – Gareth Hughes for dressage and Ros Morgan (nee Bevan) for jumping – both of these people are a huge support to me as they both really understand me and, more importantly, they understand what makes Brocks perform at her best and they have always believed she is a star – luckily both Ros and Gareth could be there on the Sunday of Badminton and we could share that special (and very surreal!) moment with them. It is such a great feeling to have really ‘brought home the goods’ for all of my team.

I am presuming that WEG will be the focus of your summer, and we wish you lots of good fortune. I follow you and the Team on Twitter and on Facebook, but are there other ways that people can follow the exploits of you and Team Griffiths? Websites? Other Social media?

Yes, I have a website and on there you will find links to my Facebook and Twitter pages as well as a link to my monthly newsletter where you can just click on the link to subscribe to the newsletter and get a copy of it emailed to you every month.

Thank you very much, Sam. It’s been a great pleasure to interview you. And thanks to Lucy for arranging this.


Finally, my apologies that my Badminton preview failed to mention the real winner, just the far too obvious contenders. Although, prompted by my fiction, I did say, “...but also watch out for the outsiders and the hidden agendas. There might be a mystery there.”

Other Sam Griffiths articles and interviews well worth checking out:

Announcement of the six horse and rider combinations selected to comprise Australia's World Equestrian Games (WEG) Eventing Team.

For Lucy Griffiths’ amazing photos of Horses, Landscapes and Gardens & Plants, visit

Roland Clarke is a retired equestrian journalist and photographer, who used to be a regular contributor of articles and photos to various equestrian media. In 2000, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which clipped his wings as he was unable to meet deadlines so easily and found it increasingly hard to attend equestrian events. Roland Clarke’s debut novel, Spiral of Hooves, set against the equestrian world of eventing, is a mystery-thriller that follows Armand Sabatier’s hazardous journey to expose a murder, while protecting the innocent. As well as writing crime mysteries, Roland also writes science-fiction and fantasy shorts set on a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Roland lives in Harlech, Wales with Juanita, their Cavachon puppy Quetzal and their two cats Willow and Kefira.  The inspiration from his office window is Snowdon and Portmeirion. On his website, Writing Wings — — he signs his Blog as The Silver Scribbler, a clue to his age and hair. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Hannah Hooton, Equine Author

British-born, Hannah Hooton was brought up in Zimbabwe where she was fortunate enough to indulge in her passion for horses and show jumping. On returning to UK in her early twenties, Hannah discovered the thrills of horse racing and developed a penchant for Irish jump jockey, Ruby Walsh (which, 13 years on, still hasn't completely abated). But at 5 foot 11 inches, competing was never an option (and she loves food too much to even try).
Hannah backpacked around Australia where she worked in various racing yards and stud farms, including Coolmore, where she was lucky enough to meet stallions such as Fastnet Rock and Encosta de Lago and look after one of the most regally bred yet unraced horses in modern history: L'on Vite - a daughter of Secretariat and Canadian champion, Fanfreluche (she was very grouchy and nippy, but Hannah doted on her).
On returning to UK, Hannah landed a job at Juddmonte Farms, later the home of Frankel, and although she never got to meet the Great One, she prides herself on having been involved in registering his conception!  Although always a hobby, writing wasn't taken seriously as a career option until Hannah began posting her work on a fan fiction site and was overwhelmed by the hunger readers had for her equine romances. Hannah went back to school and for four years studied writing in all its many forms from novel writing to journalism, English literature, script writing for screen, stage and radio and recently graduated with a first class honors degree.
Taken on by an agent not long into her studies, Hannah later chose to part ways and follow the Indie-publishing route. Her first novel, At Long Odds, is the foundation book to all series that have and will follow, including the Aspen Valley Series of which the third installment, Share and Share Alike, a finalist in the Washington Writers Marlene Contest 2014, has just been published.
Welcome Hannah!
When was your first encounter with a horse?
I can’t remember the precise occasion but I know it would have been with a placid bay mare called Cracker, who was a lesson pony at the Horse Sanctuary which is where I started learning to ride when I was about six. What I remember in more detail is falling off for the first time, not long after I started. That was from another lesson pony, Gypsy. She bolted with me and I clung on for as long as I could. We hurdled a tyre (my first jump!) before I tumbled off. Once I’d got over the fright I was very proud of my fall and eagerly awaited the next (only because I’d heard it said it took seven falls to make a rider, and I obviously misunderstood it somewhat!).
Where do you like to ride?
Sadly I don’t ride much these days. I’m more of an armchair rider now! But when I was in the saddle, I was hooked on show jumping. I took polo lessons and later exercised a friend’s polo ponies when I went through a polo craze after reading Jilly Cooper’s Polo. And later, I bought an OTTB called Tomahawk Chop – thoroughbreds have always been my favorite breed – and we used to have fantastic outrides in Zimbabwe. We would gallop along the dirt roads where the silt had gathered on the edges and it was soft underfoot and I’d fantasize about discovering the key to Tommo’s dynamite speed and we would be invited to Dubai and we’d win the World Cup. Nowadays, I’m a racing fanatic, but I still love my jumping so National Hunt racing ticks both those boxes!
What is the premise behind your Aspen Valley racing romance series?
The Aspen Valley series didn’t start out as a series at all. It was simply going to be Keeping the Peace and then I would move on. But the setting, a fictional town in Somerset called Helensvale (actually named after the area where I learnt to ride in Zimbabwe) was just so real and appealing and I adored the main characters, Pippa and Jack, so much I just couldn’t bring myself to leave there. Now I’m three books in, and working on three more and I still can’t say with any certainty that it’ll end with six.
But back to your question about premise – basically there were a couple of things I wanted to speak out about...
1) While I respect opposing opinions on racing, it is my belief that on the whole it is not cruel. Certainly, there are some bad eggs in the game, just like everything in life, but I think racing is sometimes unfairly tarred with the same brush and I wanted to write stories about the people behind racing and to show that they aren’t cold-hearted killers. Most of them work very hard for little financial reward and dote on their horses. And when the chips are down and while the media is slinging mud at them, they are often the ones who are hurting the most and I wanted to expose that.
2) Racing also has a lot to offer as an industry. There are hundreds of different jobs – from trainers to farriers to bloodstock agents to nutritionists... the list goes on and if we were to ban racing what would become of all the people employed in those roles? Racing doesn’t stop at the stable door, so I set out to write novels each with a different perspective within the industry. Keeping the Peace’s protagonist is a racing secretary; Giving Chase’s is an amateur jockey, Share and Share Alike is a member of a racehorse syndicate.
Are your characters/events based upon personal experience?
Plenty of material in my novels is adapted from personal experience or from the experiences of others, and often that helps to authenticate the stories. For instance, I don’t think I would have been able to write from the perspective of a jockey if I hadn’t already known how to ride and experienced the thrill of galloping headlong towards a jump then getting dumped on the landing side! I love writing race scenes and it’s tricky to make each one unique and exciting without resorting to the same tactics. Instead I rely a lot on emotion; before writing the scene I pinpoint what I want the writer to feel – excitement, euphoria, sadness, disappointment and then I write the scene to achieve that. Racing is full of emotion – I can’t tell you how many times I cried watching Kauto Star race and it’s not just me. When he won the Betfair Chase at Haydock, everyone was crying – his trainer, his lass, the people in the crowds. It was incredibly moving to see an old warrior return to conquer his young challenger.
Hannah working at the track in Australia.
Describe your main character and the horses...
I’ll start with horses since they are often the most real to me! Peace Offering is the star of Keeping the Peace. He’s a bit of a goof, laidback and loveable and never in a hurry, which isn’t a great trait if you’re a racehorse! Physically, he is based on my favorite racehorse of all time, Kauto Star. Ta’ Qali is introduced in Book Two, a “black” gelding (we all know you don’t get pure black thoroughbreds, but to keep it simple and not have to explain the whole dark bay/brown thing, he’s black!), who comes to the stable with a saddlebag full of quirks.
Those are drawn on my experiences with a horse I used to ride called Blue Gem – hugely talented and terrific on her day, but put the slightest bit of pressure on the reins when leading her and she’d go up on her hindlegs.
There are plenty more equine characters at Aspen Valley – Virtuoso, Black Russian, Dexter, Bold Phoenix, Blue Jean Baby, Kickstart Murphy... but so far Peace Offering and Ta’ Qali have been the main equine protagonists.
In At Long Odds, my first book and not part of the Aspen Valley series, there’s a colt called Caspian, who will always hold a special place in my heart because he was the first horse I “owned” in fiction! Now, I know with most series one would have the same main character or protagonist for all volumes, but these are romances as well as racing novels – and I don’t know about you, but I’d be getting a bit bored with things if the same couple fell in and out of love half a dozen times, so I chose to use a different protagonist in each novel, but I keep the heroes and heroines of past novels as secondary characters, so you still get to follow them after their HEAs. Pippa, the main character in Keeping the Peace, and is still my all-time favorite. Funny, resourceful, but with no clue how to do her job as a racing secretary to moody trainer Jack Carmichael, she has flaws that everyone can relate to. Francesca or “Frankie” is the heroine in Giving Chase (Book 2). Frankie is a bit younger than Pippa, both in years and maturity. She’s about twenty-three in Giving Chase and still trying to figure out where she’s going in life and her journey of self-discovery runs parallel to that of Ta’ Qali’s. She struggles with confidence and strength of conviction and is susceptible to influence, especially from her crush, champion jockey Rhys Bradford.
Tessa is the protagonist of Share and Share Alike (Book 3) and is almost a polar opposite to Frankie. She’s bolshy, confident, and not afraid to voice her opinion, which sometimes works well for her, but more often than not doesn’t, and her feisty character clashes with F.D. “Sin” Sinclair, an introverted and measured university lecturer.
Of the heroes, I’d say Jack is my favorite – but then, while they’re all different, I’ve fallen in love with each and every one of my heroes alongside my heroines.
Hannah and Selkirk
How do you maintain thoughts and ideas?
I don’t know that there is much maintenance going on in my thoughts! I think it’s safe to say I don’t have a very organized mental filing system. But when I get an idea, I’ll throw it around to see how it feels. Lots get tossed on the trash heap and I have to be careful with the ideas which feel new and appealing until I realize they are just a rehash of another story.
Sometimes an idea will grow from a title (Giving Chase went through about five different name changes). Once I’ve got the idea, I’ll set up an Excel spreadsheet and draw up a five-act structure. I’ll give myself a word limit then start filling in the gaps. 10 times out of 10 the “plan” evolves and changes as the novel grows, but when you’re writing 120,000 words, it helps to have some sort of structure written down rather than floating in your head. I also keep my phone handy for those times when a random phrase pops into my head or I hear something funny and I’ll jot it down in a draft message (I tried the notebook and pen thing but it just didn’t work for me).
Where do you like to write?
On my sofa in the living room. It’s comfy (although I now suffer from chronic back pain because of it) and the kitchen is only a few steps away (writing is hungry work). Working on the sofa also means my cat, Atticus (named after the feline character in Giving Chase, who in turn was named after the character in To Kill A Mockingbird) can go to sleep either on the armrest next to me or on the back of the sofa against my shoulders. Atticus loves being close and if there’s nowhere for him to settle down, he’ll force his way onto my lap and step all over my laptop, pressing different key combinations which turns the screen upside down.
One day soon I’ll get a proper desk and chair, but the ones I want are generally too expensive and I’m useless at assembling the ones from IKEA.
What are you currently writing?
Right now I’m putting together the plan for Aspen Valley Book 4. The working title is Making the Running and is about a stable lass’s quest to enable one of her horses to show his true Cheltenham Gold Cup potential. D’Artagnan is used as The Whistler’s pacemaker – a horse in a race who sets out to ensure the pace is hot, thereby helping a stablemate’s chances of winning, but exhausting his own chances. It’s a story about torn loyalties, sacrifice, faith and of course, love. It will all come to a head at the Cheltenham Festival (I once heard an Irishman say about the Festival “If this is what Heaven is all about, then I don’t mind dying”), where old rivals from past Aspen Valley stories will clash swords once more.
Where/when is your next book signing/event?
I’ve nothing planned in the near future since my readership is more digitally-based, but I’d say keep an eye out for the ‘Books, Mud, Compost. And Horses’ website where, as well as there being a review of Share and Share Alike, I’ll also be giving away a signed paperback copy to a lucky reader.
Do you have advice for novice writers? Riders?
Any advice I’d have would apply equally to both novice writers and riders. Keep doing it. And have confidence and self-belief. Practice will improve your skills, whether it be writing or riding. And like horses can sense your fear, readers can sense a writer’s lack of self-belief. Have confidence in your characters and both you and your reader will have a pleasant experience, just like riding!
What does horsemanship mean to you?
Mutual respect. I see little purpose in abuse of horses – an unhappy horse will never perform its best. They are the most generous and gentle of beasts and given the chance they will do their best for us (most of the time!). Take a moment to think – here is this half-ton animal; it could knock me flat, trample me to death, its physicality is such that it would win every fight a human challenged it to, yet instead of doing this, the horse chooses to comply to our demands and wishes. It carries us on its back for our pleasure, entertainment, in work and into battle and submits to mastery. How can such a submission not be respected? Saying that reminds me of a favorite poem by Ronald Duncan, which many of you would probably have heard. It is simply called “The Horse”:
Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,
Friendship without envy, or beauty without vanity?
Here where grace is laced with muscle and strength by gentleness confined.
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent;
There is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.
England’s past has been borne on his back.
All our history is in his industry.
We are his heirs; he is our inheritance.
Ladies and gentleman, I give you The Horse.
© the Ronald Duncan Literary Foundation

Misbehaving at the races!
Connect with Hannah…


Do you want the purchase links for Share and Share Alike? Here's the amazon one, but give me a shout if you want the whole kaboodle:


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