Website & Places you can find me online
Websites: www.HorseSenseAndCents.com, www.BookConductors.com & www.HalcyonAcres.com
Facebook: Hors Sense and Cents & Nanette Levin
Linkedin: Nanette Levin (active in many of the equine groups and co-manage Horse Lovers of the Business World and Horse Trail Riding).
Horse Sense and Cents™ series books can be found on Amazon (the current title is “Turning Challenging Horses Into Willing Partners”) via Ingram or, if you want a signed by author copy (we’ve set things up so you can request a customized message) go to Book Conductors and click on ‘Books for sale’.
Tell us a little about you, what is your background & where do you come from?
I was born in Washington, D.C., but spent much of my youth in Connecticut. No one in my family rode horses (or had writing skills), so I’m not sure how I wound up here.
Horses were something I was drawn to from a very young age so started riding as a five year old. I’m 46 now and continue to ride almost every day.
In addition to starting horses under saddle and breeding Irish Draught Sport Horses at Halcyon Acres®, I also gallop TBs at an area track and publish a non-fiction equine book series (Horse Sense and Cents™). We’re getting ready to launch an e-coaching service through this initiative.
My primary business focus for the first twenty years after college was marketing, writing and small business advocacy. During this time I did a lot of freelance writing, including material for daily papers, business publications and equine trade magazines. It’s been wonderful to combine the equine, writing and entrepreneurial passions in my life. The future is very exciting.
Have you always been a writer or was it your experience with horses that inspired you to write about them?
Actually, it’s kind of a funny story. English was my poorest subject in school (well, spelling was worse, but that was before the days of spell check). I decided to shore up the weakness by taking college courses until I was satisfied with my writing proficiency. I completed an English major before I realized it. During my college years, I started writing as a freelancer for a number of community newspapers. I really enjoyed the activity, the exposure and the income. When I stopped drawing, the writing filled the creative need. It’s just been recently (the past eight years or so) that I’ve been able to combine my passion for writing and horses.
Different people have different definitions of ‘problem horses’, which problem do you most commonly see?
Most horses are just misunderstood. Whether it’s a strong-willed filly that someone’s tried to dominate or she’s managed to intimidate every horse and human she’s encountered or a scared horse that’s been over-faced, most horse issues can be traced back to the misguided people that have touched them. Unraveling the root causes can take some time and the behavior manifests itself in very different ways.
I’ve found the majority of equines labeled ‘problems’ will become amazing partners when they encounter a human willing to listen to what they are trying to say. It’s rewarding and miraculous to witness some of these transformations.
What is one piece of advice you find yourself giving to horse owners over and over again?
Formula approaches don’t work with most horses. Many of the scrambled brains that come into Halcyon Acres® are the result of someone trying to put a horse into their human training system. Each horse is different. Young horses in particular need flexible approaches to the work activities and duration if they are to blossom into willing partners. If you’re not responding to what your horse is trying to tell you, he’ll either act out or shut down.
Do you find that there are certain breeds which are often misunderstood and perhaps inaccurately labeled as problematic?
Thoroughbreds are a breed I work with a lot (pre- and post- racing career as well as while they’re running) and I do think they tend to get an undeserved bad rap. Breeding is an issue (temperament is rarely a consideration in selecting pairings for those bound for the racetrack), but that’s a relative rarity. More often their issues arise from being started in an unresponsive fashion, dealing with soreness for extended periods of time or simply misunderstandings on cues used for racing vs. riding. Sometimes early handling (or not) sets a course that gets them labeled ‘bad actors.’ Most TBs, given a chance early in life, become willing and eager pleasers that carries through to career transitions. Although a ‘hot’ breed, that doesn’t mean hyper. Give any TB the pasture space and time they need to enjoy energetic activity and most will be calm quiet and responsive mounts.
Have you run across a ‘problem’ in an animal that you were unable to solve?
Oh yes – and those are the heartbreakers. One in particular is featured twice in the “Turning Challenging Horses Into Willing Partners,” book. We made some headway with Studley (with his meanness) but were never able to completely resolve his sour tendencies. What was so sad about this horse is you could tell this wasn’t his nature. He endured pain and violent demands to keep training for a time, but finally reacted with a genuine desire to maim any human he encountered (came in here after hospitalizing a groom at the track). In this case, we succeeded on one level – he ran and made a good deal of money that year – but failed miserably in giving him the coping tools to leave his past behind. In fact, he was barred within a month after he shipped south to a track with a different trainer (and handlers and riders).
Sometimes physical or mental issues (we have one here now who is likely mentally retarded and ADD – routine has been key for this kind horse that wants to please) can stop a horse from doing what you ask.
Pain is so often discounted when problems start, and more often than not, the culprit.
Who are your main literary influences?
When I’m not reading for business (marketing, other horse authors, sales, personal development, etc.), I tend to gravitate toward fiction classics with an Eastern basis. Sidartha (Hermann Hesse) touched me in ways during my college years that can’t be articulated. I’ve revisited the book several times and have sought out other literature that incorporates Eastern philosophy in the message. Honestly, I really can’t point to writers I model – my style is born from feedback from readers and some great coaching from a business partner more than a couple of decades ago on how to craft copy that engages the reader.
Do you (or did you) have a specific animal that is the muse behind your work?
There are hundreds of horses that have provided the insight and stories to inspire my writing. In fact, I feature eleven of them in the “Turning” book. One of the things we decided to do with the series (and Rob Fera, who is authoring the soon to be released “Bringing Up Baby,” is incorporating it in his approach too) is to include a good number of stories illustrating particular issues, challenges, learning experiences or breakthroughs.
People tend to be able to process information more easily if you can show them with a tale they can relate to.
My favorite horse was probably my first. He was a nightmare for everyone but me (he was such a bad actor we were barred from participating in Pony Club activities). I suppose after that kind of introduction to horse ownership I gravitated toward the ones that had issues. My next pony was a dream by I always missed Mouse (short for Anonymous – no one knew where he came from, or if they did, they wouldn’t admit it).
Is there a particular place that brings you inspiration?
I’ve always been drawn to water, but most of my inspiration these days comes from the horses. So, I guess the short answer is anywhere I have horses teaching me new things. This includes being with and watching the farm herd, working with the young horses coming in for starting under saddle, the trails, the track or any place horses are part of my moments.
What effect do you think the Internet has had on writing & literature?
I don’t think we’re seeing how this is all going to play out yet. We seem to be moving past the ‘everything should be free’ mentality as people are realizing there’s quality in (some of) what you pay for. They also seem to be recognizing that honoring copyright is important to ensure we continue to have good material created. My take is this is going to be a very good development for writing and literature long-term, as writers (and publishers) now have an international reach not only for readers but also content providers.
Plus, it’s much easier now to gain viral buzz if you’re producing something outstanding. Those who may have been obscure in the past or operating in a tight niche market offering excellent alternatives have an opportunity to be discovered in a much faster and easier fashion. That’s good for both the writers and the readers.
Has it had an effect on yours?
You bet. The Internet has given me access to people from around the globe that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I don’t spend a lot of time ‘surfing’ unless looking for something in particular, but do allocate a fair amount of time to Linked In groups (primarily equine). Participation here not only gives me access to trainers, equine behaviorists, novices (great for feedback on what they want but can’t find), practitioners of a variety of horse healing disciplines and pros of all sorts, but also offers the opportunity to get a feel for who I’m talking to. This has not only provided me with great insight and help with some of the client horse issues I face at Halcyon Acres® (some of which will be included in one of the titles planned for 2011), but has also provided a means to select ideal global contributors for book series titles (each book includes an entire section that draws from the knowledge, experiences and perspectives of professionals globally).
What else are you passionate about?
I’m an avid vegetable gardener. There’s something about getting my hands dirty, being responsible for the healthy growth of a crop and enjoying a harvest of food with no chemicals that’s spiritually enriching. Of course, the natural fertilizer that results from the horse farm activities helps ensure a productive return .
Working on anything new?
We currently have two titles planned for the Horse Sense and Cents™ series in 2011, namely “Bringing Up Baby” (this deals with prenatal through 18 months of age with a good deal of focus on nutrition, handling, how-to information on foaling out, illness & behavioral issues and smart barn management practices) and “Don’t Get Thrown Starting Under Saddle.”
In addition, we’re going to be launching an e-coaching service as part of the Horse Sense and Cents™ initiative this month designed to provide affordable and customized support for those who may not have the access or resources to tap someone locally for help. This was borne from the years I spent freelancing for equine trade magazines and the horror stories I heard from readers who were twisting in the wind after being convinced by a broker or DVD they could go it alone with a green horse. It was surprising to learn so many of these people are located in remote areas where local providers aren’t available.
Last question – If you had to sum up how you feel about horses in one sentence, what would it be?
They are wonderful teachers – if you’re willing to listen to what they’re trying to tell you.
More to Come
Thanks to Nanette for answering the interview and sharing more about her writing. Be sure to check out her website periodically for updates about her latest books.
Also stay tuned for more interviews with horse artists, photographers & authors. Are you a horse artist or do you know an equine artist you’d like to see featured? Add your name and website in the comments below or drop me a note to get involved.