Gina McKnight, Author, Freelance Writer, Equestrian, Blogger, and Poet! Welcome to my international blog about horses, writers, authors, books, cowboys, equestrians, photographers, artists, poets, poems, and more horses.
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Thursday, October 27, 2016
An Interview with Equine Writer Rachael Eliker
was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska. She attended UNL where she studied
Animal Science with an option in Biology, before moving to Iowa with her
husband to live on a century-old farmstead. She currently lives on an acreage
in Indiana, with her husband and four children where she enjoys challenging
home improvement projects, running on lonely stretches of country road and
writing young adult fiction.
GM: Thanks for connecting! Writing and riding horses is so much fun! You have a great horse history. When was your first
encounter with a horse?
My kindergarten teacher, who was a close friend of the family (and who wouldn’t
be after having all six of us siblings in her class, haha!) was also a rancher
and raised all kinds of animals, from sheep and rabbits to cows, chickens, and
most importantly to me, horses. Knowing my family loved animals, she invited us
over ever summer to come ride. It was the highlight of my year, every year. She’d put us on her
beautiful broodmares, name Princess and Fanny, who would patiently tote us
around a dusty paddock for hours on end without complaint. Eventually, when we
were in a position to buy our own horse, she put us in contact with the people
who sold us a flashing paint gelding, nicknamed Stoney. My kindergarten teacher
and her horses have left a lasting impression on me, my relationship with
horses, and my desire to share my love for them with others.
What eventing/competing have you done and how has it inspired you in your
Being from the Midwest of the U.S., I grew up mostly being exposed to Western
riding. However, my grandfather saw a unique opportunity to expose me to
English riding when he gifted me dressage lessons as a Christmas present. I was
hooked. Those lessons eventually led to my family purchasing Stoney, who though
young, had already been trained in Western. My instructor and I spent an
intensive fall and winter retraining him for English and the following spring,
we began showing in dressage. With experience, we expanded our repertoire to
include show jumping and eventing, as well. Through high school and into
college, we competed pretty regularly and had some fantastic success. A pretty
paint horse doing well in English disciplines is a rare occurrence in our
Rachael and Stoney
I got older, though, competition, by necessity, had to go by the wayside.
Marriage, work, and children took precedence, though I have always considered
myself blessed that Stoney has been close through it all. Last year, Stoney
came out of retirement and took my three girls to their very first leadline
class at a local show. Though (and maybe because) I’m not able to ride and
train as intensively as I’d like, I turned to writing as a way to relive some
of my favorite memories. I look forward to riding and writing more, drawing on
all kinds of experiences I’ve had—and continue to have—with all kinds of horses.
In your first book Headed for the Win
there are surprising twists! Do you write of your own life/riding experiences?
Definitely! In fact, the Nadia and
Winny series, was inspired by some very memorable moments Stoney and I
have had while riding together. Like when he dumped me after a pheasant jumped
out of the meadow and surprised him. Or how he was upset for half an hour about
a plastic bag floating over a harvested cornfield. Or why he’d willingly go
swimming in a lake but would snort and stop dead in his tracks when he came
across a murky puddle. More than once, I’ve wondered just what he was thinking.
Writing these books has given me a fun way to explore the possible explanations
for the reasons horses tick.
Experience always makes great stories. How do you develop scenarios and characters
for your books?
I love observing people and their interactions with each other, including their
horses. From this has stemmed many, “What if?” scenarios, some of which have
made it into my writing. For a book to be enjoyable for me, there has to be
some meaningful conflict that will help the character(s) grow, draw closer
together, have a deepened resolve to accomplish a goal, etc. It doesn’t mean
the world or some of the elements can’t be fictitious, however, which is why I
took some liberties with the reality of the Nadia
and Winny series. Still, the relationships, characters, and their
personalities have to be relatable for a story to shine.
With a lot of competition in the equine writer’s arena, you certainly have
brought awesome books to readers. How do you maintain thoughts and ideas?
In this current life stage, there are many demands on my time and small
children that require a lot of attention. So, on top of daydreaming
(frequently!) while doing menial chores, I am sure to keep detailed lists and
outlines on my phone so when I have a chance to write, I can jump right into
the story instead of wondering where the plot is going to go or what conflict
the characters are going to experience.
What are you currently writing?
Nadia and Winny will return in a
third book (Gloria isn’t going to get away with anything)! On top of that, I
have a YA dystopian series, entitled The
Midnight Slaves, that I recently released (somehow horses always make it
into my stories—there are a few of my favorite horse characters in that series
as well). When I’m not writing books, I keep up a personal blog, entitled, The Rehomesteaders, where we share some
of our hilarious moments, favorite recipes or home improvement triumphs. I also
post on my author website at rachaeleliker.com. There are dozens of books patiently
waiting in the back of my mind to be put on paper. Someday!
Yes, I love your website and blog. Awesome! I am sure you are a reader as well
as a writer. What books have influenced your life the most?
Some of the classics have been incredibly influential on me. Black Beauty is a big one—I joke
with my husband that I could never sell a horse because I’ve read Black
Beauty too many times, haha! Otherwise, I’ve enjoyed books like Peter Pan and Wendy, Little Women, and Pride and Prejudice. I’m a huge fan
of some modern equestrian authors as well, including Brittney Joy, Kate
Lattey, Leigh Hutton, and Tudor Robins…I read so many different genres because
so many different types of stories intrigue me. One of the things that has been
incredibly satisfying since becoming an author is my heightened appreciation of
others’ talents and their ability to craft fascinating and complex stories that
influence me as a writer, too.
Do you enjoy attending book signing events, literary lunches, and author
Yes and no…I’m naturally a very shy, introverted person, so public events take
a lot out of me. However, I love meeting fans and new readers and discussing
what kinds of books they enjoy reading. So, I recognize that my shyness is a
weakness I can work on so I don’t miss out on opportunities to meet people. I
try to attend a couple of events every year in the area and would like to
expand as I complete more novels.
As an author/writer, what memberships do you keep? Do you think they are
important for marketing?
Writing is easy, marketing takes finesse. What have you found to be a good
Marketing…that is another one of my pitfalls. However, since self-publishing
has really taken off, some user-friendly platforms have been incredibly
instrumental in connecting readers to new authors. I’ve found success doing
stints of discounted or free books and advertising them on sites that send out
books recommendations to the newsletter subscribers. I also actively keep an
author website, send out a sporadic newsletter, maintain a Facebook fan page, and am on
Twitter. I love how social
media connects people across the globe.
Back to horses, describe the horses currently in your life and how horses have
helped you become the person you are today...
Through many sacrifices and miracles, we still own Stoney, who now lives in the
pastures in our backyard. He just turned 20 and lives a quiet life in
semi-retirement, giving a lot of children their first horseback rides, the
occasional lesson, and a few more intensive schooling sessions with me a couple
times a week. When we lived in Iowa and Stoney first came to live with us, we
went to a horse auction a mile down the road and bought a cheap, plain-looking
filly to keep him company and named her Dancer. She’s grown into a sassy,
subtly beautiful mare with a great trot (especially for a Quarter Horse!) and
the two have been inseparable for the past eight years. She is very green but I
have big plans for her future, though I keep telling my husband we need to
build a riding arena and a barn first. Once I finish fixing up our house, I
know right where I’ll put them!
What does horsemanship mean to you?
Traditionally, horsemanship has meant the art of riding but what I’ve
discovered as my connection with horses has evolved over the decades, is that
true horsemanship encompasses the entire relationship with them. Though there
is much to be learned in the saddle, there are equally important lessons to be
mastered from the ground, whether teaching another to ride, grooming, caring
for them, or simply observing them. So, when I think of horsemanship, I
consider it a whole-horse approach. This can truly deepen a horse and rider’s
relationship and create lasting bonds that will resonate for a lifetime.
Wells has spent her life trying to convince her parents that horses are a
necessity but despite her best efforts, they see them only as an extravagant
luxury. After landing her dream job mucking stalls in exchange for riding
lessons, a wealthy philanthropist recognizes Nadia’s talent and decides to
invest in her. Purchasing a mare nicknamed Winny, Nadia is sure she’s bound for
equestrian greatness but on the cusp of their most challenging three-day event
yet, Winny bucks Nadia off in front of a crowd of her peers. Humiliated and
fuming, Nadia makes a birthday wish that she could better understand her horse.
The next morning, she wakes up to discover she has four hooves and a tail
swishing between her legs: she and Winny have switched places! If life as a
teenage-girl-turned-show-horse wasn't hard enough, Nadia has to figure out a
way to tell the dashing Mike how she feels or risk losing him and the
competition to the talented, gorgeous and spoiled Gretchen. Will the pair
concede defeat or work together to overcome the impossible and be headed for
Wells and her horse, Winny, have rocketed up the ranks of eventing and are
ready to appear in their first internationally rated four-star show at the
Regalia Horse Park. Though Nadia has kept secret her switching places with
Winny years earlier at the Gallant Meadows event, the experience is anything
but a distant memory. Between competing and looking poised for the Olympic
Scouts eyeing them for next year’s team, Nadia has to try and keep longtime
boyfriend Mike safe from a former fling’s advances while trying to deflect
another handsome competitor herself. Focused on winning even though they are
novices at the most advanced level of the sport, they’re taken by surprise when
the morning after the opening gala, they wake up in each other’s bodies. While
struggling to master their reversed roles, Winny has to face her own demons
once she discovers Gloria, a former abusive owner, is also competing. It’s been
a long road to the Regalia for Nadia and Winny but they’re determined to take
first place despite a cheater who’s willing to go to extraordinary lengths to
get rid of the competition.