Danville author writes book for middle-graders
By JENNIFER BRUMMETT
May 2, 2010
An angry child in the foster care system. An angry horse, abused and sick. A tired caregiver, unsure of whether she can care for the two.
This is the trio of characters around whom “Dream of Night,” local author Heather Henson’s new novel for middle-graders, is spun.
Henson decided to take riding lessons when she moved back to Kentucky after living elsewhere for many years. She wanted to have horses and hadn’t ridden much when she was a kid.
She started taking lessons with Susanna Thomas, equine director at the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Henson called Thomas an amazing horsewoman from whom she learned a lot.
Thomas’ organization, Henson explained, is to “find homes for Thoroughbreds who have been in the racing industry and maybe had an injury or haven’t been money winners.” If suitable candidates can’t adopt a horse, she added, they can foster a horse, if they can’t keep one long term. They even can sponsor a horse if they can’t afford to keep one. “I think what they do is really amazing,” Henson said.
She said riding lessons taught her how little she knows about horses. “It would take a lifetime to learn to be a good rider or horsewoman,” Henson noted, “but I love horses. Through the lessons I came to really admire horses and respect them in a way I never had. Growing up in Kentucky, I’d seen them in fields … but I’d never really had a chance to be with a horse.”
With Thomas’ help, she started spending more time with horses and now is interested in adopting equines when her farm is ready for them. Henson said many people don’t realize how many horses are out there who need to be adopted. She said 35,000 thoroughbreds are registered with the Jockey Club each year, yet only one wins the Kentucky Derby.
The Jockey Club is the breed registry for Thoroughbred horses in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The organization is dedicated to the improvement of Thoroughbred breeding and racing, and it fulfills that mandate by serving many segments of the industry through its subsidiary companies and by providing support to a wide range of industry initiatives.
Learning that led her to wonder what happens to the rest of the horses — the ones who don’t win the Derby, or maybe don’t win at all, who don’t win big purses for their owners.
“That where my story began,” Henson said of her inspiration for “Dream of Night,” which will be for sale Tuesday. “What does happen to all these horses? They are registered Thoroughbreds but not money winners. They get sold or go from owner to owner.
“The story idea for the book came from riding lessons, and I also, through riding lessons, through the books and Web sites Susanna suggested … started to realize there are a lot of programs across the country that use horses to reach kids with a wide range of disabilities, both physical and emotional. Horses are used for kids with physical disabilities, with autism, with emotional disabilities.”
Working with a horse gives in individual, whether adult or child, empathy for another living creature.
“So when kids work with horses they begin to build trust where there are trust issues. They care for them, feeding them and grooming them. They are taking care of another creature and it helps them understand how to reach out. … Horses speak to people in a way that’s really special,” Henson explained.
Answering the question of why racehorses need rescuing is what led to “Dream of Night.”
“As I sat down to write, as often happens (for me), the characters started speaking,” Henson noted. “The character of the horse started talking to me, so I started writing from the perspective of an abused ex-racehorse.
“I felt strongly — I felt like I knew their story: the 60-year-old woman, the younger girl who had been abused, and the horse. All three came to me.”
A lot of Thoroughbreds wind up with a happy ending. But, because there are so many, a lot of them end up on farms with people who can’t afford to keep them, Henson noted.
“You see a lot of articles in the newspaper about rescue operations where they’ve found horses and they’re basically starving,” she said. “Or they’ve been mistreated or abused.
“Another thing about Thoroughbreds is they are bred to be fast, which makes them temperamental and difficult to handle. They are trained to be aggressive … and sometimes people mistreat them because they are afraid of them.”
Thomas works with the horses to rehabilitate them, Henson said. She tries to gentle them before introducing them to an adoptive family. Some of these rehabilitated horses become eventor horses that participate in dressage events. They can have a second life, Henson noted, if they have a person who knows how to retrain them.
The author said she hopes, first and foremost, that the children who read it enjoy and connect with it.
“I want them to think about the bigger world — to get involved with an animal shelter, helping with dogs and cats, or getting active with the community. I hope it gives them inspiration to do that.
“And also, I’d like kids to think about maybe there’s a kid in their class who seems a little shy or inside a shell and maybe this book will make a kid empathize with someone else.”
SO YOU KNOW
“Dream of Night,” Heather Henson’s new novel for middle-graders, is available wherever books are sold beginning Tuesday. Henson will be signing books beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington. She also will be signing books 4-6 p.m. Thursday at The Blue Marble in Cincinnati. Other events will be planned in the future to celebrate the publication of the book.
Copyright: AMNews.com 2010
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