I have just now read the answers to these questions before posting this and am amazed and inspired by what Anastasia Burke has been through, achieved and how she encourages others. Based on her words here, I’d encourage you to look into getting her book Hoofprints: A Goal Setting Journal for Young Riders. Below are her answers regarding writing about horses and making a career of it.
Have you always been interested in horses and when did you start writing about them?
In my online young adult novel, which you can see for free at www.boxofstarsanastasiaburke.blogspot.com, my main character spends the better part of a chapter describing what it means to be a “horse girl,” a somewhat derisive terms used by non-riders to refer to kids who ride. And I’m proud to say I am now–and have been since age six–a horse girl. You can be a horse girl even if you’re 80, as long as you live and breathe and dream horses! I got into my work as a freelance writer and author a bit by accident when I lost my eyesight. At the time, I was training horses and teaching riding; I lost my vision – literally, within the blink of an eye – due to a rare auto-immune disease that affects only the eyes. This was in 1997.
I majored in writing at college but never used it. Part of my vision rehabilitation included taking classes in computers. At that time, I was offered a chance to take a creative writing class.
The third assignment involved creating a news profile and I ended up writing about one of my young riding students, who had qualified for Pony Club nationals. The local newspaper bought the story and that was the beginning! I ended up writing a weekly horse column for them for three years.
From there, I began proposing articles to other regional magazines, and soon, I sold my first piece to Practical Horseman, which has the largest circulation of any equestrian magazine in the U.S.
I’ve been writing for PH for about six years now, and last year published my book, Hoofprints: A Goal Setting Journal for Young Riders. (Available at Amazon.com)
Writing has been a godsend for me; it gave me a new career after my eyesight loss prevented me from teaching any longer. And it allowed me to combine two things I love – horses and the written word.
Some people think that losing your eyesight is about the worst thing that could ever happen, but because of vision loss, I found writing again. I feel very, very lucky.
How much of your day/week is hands on with horses?
Our horses are right outside our door, so I start out every day feeding, cleaning, grooming, and just hanging out with “the kids.” I ride about three to four times a week, and conduct goal setting workshops and one-on-one classes about three hours a week on average.
The rest of the time, I am writing about horses, either for my two blogs, or for Practical Horseman, or some other publication. I am interviewing trainers, and other industry professionals, as well. So I would say I’m pretty immersed.
Regarding horses, as a writer, is it possible for someone to be a full time professional, earning a livable income?
If you learn how to write a compelling and informative article and then amass a lot of knowledge about horses, you can definitely work full-time in equestrian writing.
There are so many possibilities – besides writing, you can be an editor, a layout person, a fact-checker, or a staff writer.
Or you can be like me, a freelancer who writes on lots of different topics relating to horsemanship. Just to give you an example, last year, I wrote about keeping your knees healthy for riding, about how to apply sunscreen properly so all those hours at the barn don’t turn you into an old wrinkle before your time, and how to preserve equestrian lands. I also write about finding your spiritual center through riding, and rounded it all out with several articles on how to set goals for your riding year.
You have to know how to write, first and foremost, so study up and take classes. If you already know how to write but would like to explore freelancing, I can recommend Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer, a great book that can tell you all the ins and outs of freelancing.
What are the general steps taken to become recognised as an equine writer?
As I said above, the most important quality you need is great writing. And good knowledge about your topic. If you have never published, then start writing for anything you can -church newsletters, your local horse club’s newsletter, and any smaller regional publications. Also, check web logs (blogs) – many horse blogs are hungry for “guest’ writers. None of these pay, but it gives you “clips,” published pieces that you send in to an editor to prove that you can write.
Next, come up with some ideas on articles and start writing proposal letters, known as “queries.” Writing a great query to a magazine to propose your idea is an art form in itself. I recommend you get a book on the topic. One I can recommend is Queries that Rock. A book such as this can really help you understand what an editor is looking for.
The more you get published, the more you will get published. I’ll add to that, I’ve had my share of rejection letters right alongside my many successes. So just as you do when trying to master that sitting trot – stick with it.
And if you get a job, make sure you turn in your article on time, with correct grammar, punctuation and spelling. Editors hate writers who make their job more difficult.
Any advice for those interested in pursuing writing, especially pertaining to horses?
Read, read, read. Read articles in the kinds of publications you would like to work for. Analyze what you think is good, and what you think doesn’t work. Keep a notebook of ideas – every time I go into the barn, something pops into my head. I thought of the knee article because my own knees hurt like heck and I wanted to know what I could do about it. I thought of the sunscreen article because I’m constantly trying to find new ways to protect myself while still enjoying hours in the sun with my horse.
By the same token, I can also write about the benefits of riding for a national fitness magazine. Or I can write about riding in different countries for a travel magazine.
Really, the possibilities are endless. With magazines and the web, there are no limits.
Is there anything else with horses youâ€™d love to learn about or try?
My life with horses has been constantly evolving over the last decade since I first lost my vision. At the time, I was 100% sightless, so I didn’t ever think I’d get on a horse again! Although I’m still completely blind in my left eye, I have about 40% vision in my right – so I’m back in the saddle.
However, since jumping is probably too dangerous for me, my eventing and hunter/jumper days are behind me. But now, I’m learning to do distance riding, also known as endurance. It’s totally new to me and I’m learning so many new things. For example, in dressage, it’s all about having contact with the horse. But in endurance, you try hard to ride on a lose rein and trust the horse to find his right path. As my trainer, Nathalie Guion, says, “Endurance riding is a journey of trust.” I couldn’t say it any better.
Favourite horse memory?
Can I give you two? The first one is when my parents gave me my first horse at Christmas. I was shocked. Overjoyed. I ran all over our neighborhood, scremaing, “I got a horse! I got a horse!” Everyone within a five-mile radius heard me, I’m sure.
My second memory, and the one that helped me overcome the challenges of vision loss, was when I was competing in the Olympic screening trials. There was one fence on the x-country course that I was certain I would perish on. The night before, I couldn’t sleep. I could only think about that fence. Mid-course, I realized that I had better change my thinking – focus on what my coach had told me, focus on my strong, athletic horse – or I would, in fact, get hurt.
We took the fence beautifully and finished in fourth place for the day.
That lesson – that you need to focus your thinking on what you can do, not what you can’t – really helped me overcome the anger, frustration, and depression that hit me when I lost my sight.
Horses have truly taught me that I can meet any challenge. I just have to stay balanced, focused, and moving forward.
I plan to finish training my young Standardbred mare, Cori. Ha! That will be the rest of my life, but I am trying to move her up another level in her dressage and also strengthen her for some 50-mile rides this summer.
And with writing, my biggest goal is to continue putting up one chapter a week on my young adult blog and continue to provide great blog writing.
Best thing about your sport/profession?
I get to blend my love and knowledge of horses with my passion for the pen. I get to work at home, with my horses outside the office window, and my schedule is my own. I get to write, not for just one magazine, but for as many as I like.
“His is a power enhanced by pride, A courage heightened by challenge, His is a swiftness intensified by strength, A majesty magnified by grace, His is a timeless beauty touched with gentleness, A spirit that calls our hearts to dream.”