Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lovely Article in the Times Colonist

What a great article to find in today's Times Colonist! Written by Barbara Julian, it talks about our launch at Greenhawk a few weeks ago. I'm not sure if the link (above) to the story works, but you can read it here without the formatting and photo.

Horsewomen share their passion

Barbara Julian
Times Colonist

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Author, Author: Riders and writers Julie White and Nikki Tate flank medal-winning equestrian Karen Brain, whose story is the subject of Tate's book.

Double Take: Karen Brain's Olympic Journey, by Nikki Tate; Sono Nis Press; 143 pages plus Glossary and Index; $12.95

High Fences, by Julie White; Sono Nis Press; 190 pages, $9.95

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Horses are responsible for turning a lot of kids into readers. Kids who catch the riding bug will devour any reading material with a horse in it, whether novels, Pony Club manuals, histories of breeds or horsemanship magazines. The canon of literary horse classics is familiar even to non-riders -- Black Beauty, National Velvet, Walter Farley's Black Stallion series, Marguerite Henry's histories -- and every year several B.C. writers add titles to the list.

Nikki Tate, already known to horse-loving youth for her StableMates series, has written for the general reader a new biography of local-born Olympic rider Karen Brain. This book recently shared a launch party with Armstrong horse breeder and author Julie White. White's story for eight- to 11-year-olds, High Fences, features characters introduced in her earlier novel The Secret Pony.

The launch for these two titles took place in an equestrian supplies store in Brentwood. The powerful smell of saddle leather greeted attendees the moment they opened the door -- a familiar smell to riders but especially evocative for those of us who connect the sport with our youth.

The horsewomen-authors sat signing books at a table among an array of horse care commodities as specialized as are health and beauty products for humans: natural body wash, "ultra fire" vitamins, and "Quietex Powder" read some of the labels.

"It just seemed logical to have the book launch in a tack shop," says Nikki Tate. Now no one remembers who first had the idea -- Glynis, the owner of Greenhawk Supplies, or the authors, who are also her customers -- but there was an excitable buzz among the kids and adults in attendance because they all agree that the next best thing after a horse is a book about a horse. As Holden Caulfield says in Catcher in the Rye (comparing horses to cars), "a horse is at least human."

That horse raising and riding is an art and a lifestyle as well as a sport is reflected in these two books. High Fences contains detail about equine physiology and daily life in the stable, as well as the relationships among the horse and human characters that make up the story. Julie White, whose husband is an ex-jockey and daughter a certified racing trainer, got the details from a life spent with horses.

"The characters come from kids I knew as a child," she says.

Her young heroine Faye suffers the anguish of having Robin, her beloved partner in the show ring, sold out of financial necessity. That loss was a high fence to clear indeed, but whenever she is in the jumping ring Faye forgets everything but the horse she is riding and the competition at hand. "Faye's world narrowed to the sand-covered ring cluttered with brightly coloured obstacles," and so does the reader's, which is the whole point of this short novel for the 10-year-old dreaming of a show jumping career.

Olympic rider Karen Brain was once just such a 10-year-old, but one of the few who did get to the top of the equestrian world. Through drive, sacrifice, hard work and help from the best coaches at top training stables (the names Mark Phillips and Gatcombe Park in England may be familiar even to the non-rider), she progressed through gruelling qualifying shows until she and her horse Double Take made the World Equestrian Games in Rome in 1998. Then the turning point occurred. Brain broke her back in a riding accident, and her next several years were spent in a long rehabilitation program. With characteristic determination, Karen recovered the ability to walk and to ride, and eventually qualified for the Canadian Para-Equestrian Team which in 2004 went to the Athens Paralympic Games, where she won two bronze medals.

As a horsewoman herself, Tate knew Karen Brain before Brain's accident, but it was while visiting her in the hospital that Tate's storyteller's instinct went on high alert. She could "smell" the story bubbling up as the iron-willed champion rebounded from what had seemed like an irrevocable setback.

Nikki Tate's fluid prose takes us through the story at an easy canter, describing in detail the world of top equestrianship against which Brain's ascent, and then disastrous reversal of fortune, took place. Brain's recovery and re-dedication to ambition as a paralympian was a "double take" of another kind. Tate's account also shows us the world of international horse show bureaucracy, the costs of training and flying horses around the world, and the disturbing extent to which they too suffer pain and injury as they train to the max.

Brain wrote the introduction to Double Take. "I honestly do consider myself one of the luckiest people I know," she writes. "I have been blessed with a great family, great friends, and several great horses, and it is because of all of them that I have lived a rich life."

At Greenhawk tack shop and other venues where Tate's book was introduced, Brain delivered inspiring words to young riders which she echoes in her introduction: start now to create the memories for your own biography "by daring to live out your most heartfelt fantasies. If you can dream it, you can do it!"

At the Greenhawk store book launch, Brain's two bronze medals from Athens were on display beside the freshly printed copies of High Fences and Double Take, which looked right at home among the saddles, bridles and bags of "oat cuisine" also displayed for sale. Outside, the fall dusk was closing in and all over the Saanich Peninsula horses were being brought from hoof-churned fields into cosy barns.

Every young horse-loving, book-loving girl knows the special pleasure of reading under a tree in a field while your horse munches grass beside you: "down time" for both of you. Certain books find their way into the barn and look more at home there than in a library.

These two will be among those that belong where hay bales serve as shelves and hoof picks double as bookmarks, and where their equine subjects munch and stomp and blow their steamy breath across the stalls.

Barbara Julian is a Victoria writer who as a girl read nothing that wasn't about horses
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

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