Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Finding True Stories

by Diana Kimpton

Being commissioned to write a book is an exciting event, but, once the immediate thrill has worn off, the prospect can be daunting. That’s what I found when I was asked to write Horse Stories That Really Happened. It was going to be the only horse book in a "Stories that Really Happened" series and I was required to provide 6 exciting horse stories set in a variety of time periods. To help with marketing, the publisher wanted at least one story to be set in the USA and one in Australia. 
As soon as I started planning the book, I realised I had a problem. Dog Stories that Really Happened would have been easy, because dogs do brave things all the time. They pull babies from burning buildings, capture criminals and discover people trapped in rubble after earthquakes. Horses, on the other hand, are timid creatures who run away from plastic bags, lions and all dangers in between. That’s why the only horses awarded the Dickens Medal for Gallantry in World War 2 got it for not running away.  

Eventually I found 5 stories that gave the variety I needed:

  • How Alexander the Great tamed his famous horse, Bucephalus.
  • An Australian heroine’s daring horseback rescue of survivors from a shipwreck
  • The wartime rescue of the white stallions of the Spanish Riding School.
  • Foinavon’s amazing victory in the Grand National when no one expected him to win.
  • The rescue of a horse from a river by a brave RSPCA inspector

At that stage, the American story was going to be the crossing of the Sierra Nevada mountains in a snow storm during the first run of the Pony Express. However, that was eventually replaced by a much better one that I came across by chance.
As part of my research, I’d joined a discussion group for horse lovers and early in January someone asked what presents people had had for Christmas. One answer from a lady called Angie stood out from all the others. "We got a mustang foal who collapsed in our yard on Christmas Eve" she said. . "We’ve called her Annie and are nursing her back to health.” 

I immediately wrote asking if I could put the foal’s story in the book. Her rescuer agreed and I set about piecing together Annie’s story through an email conversation that spanned the Atlantic. As it was difficult to get permission to include the various humans in the story, I decided to write the account from Annie’s point of view.  

But there was one big problem. Annie had hurt her leg and was very lame. Because mustangs are protected by law, Angie needed permission to keep her and she would only get that if the foal was free of pain. So several anxious weeks went by with my whole family biting our nails as we waited for the results of each vet’s visit. If the foal couldn’t recover, it wouldn’t just my story that would be ruined. Annie would have to be put down.  

Eventually there was a happy ending. Annie got the all clear, her adoption went ahead and so did my story. Luckily mustang supporters in her area had been watching the foal ever since her mother was killed in a car accident so Angie was able to fill in the details I needed. After she was orphaned, other mares had suckled Annie until the winter came and their milk supplies ran low. Then she’d spent a while with her older brother and some other colts, learning to fend for herself and eat the hay put out by horse-lovers.

But when she injured her leg, she couldn’t keep up with the other horses any more. All alone and growing progressively weaker, she was totally reliant on the donated hay. Then on Christmas Eve, she plucked up the courage to go down to Angie’s house where she knew the hay came from. That’s where she collapsed and her new life began.

The story of Annie remains my favourite from that book because I became so involved in the events. When the book went out of print and I got the rights back, I gave the copyright in Annie's Story to Angie so it could be used to help mustangs.

There are still some second hand copies of Horse Stories That Really Happened on sale if you want to read Annie's Story yourself.
The three historical stories  from the original book live on in Perfectly Pony: my ebook anthology of pony facts and fiction.  

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