A local writer’s dream of a book to let kids know about real Rogue Valley horses has turned into a success story with help from a local illustrator.
“The Smallest Horse” appears as one of the top choices when people search on Amazon for children’s horse books. Talent author Lorie List and illustrator Amanda Holbo spent several years developing the idea, then self-published this fall.
Trixie, a 10-year-old Shetland pony-miniature horse mix, is “The Smallest Horse” who is disappointed she cannot do things larger horses do, but ends up finding her own purpose. In real life, Trixie is a therapy horse and her work includes support for first responders in Jackson and Josephine counties.
“The goal of the book is to not only educate kids but to be meaningful and teach the kids some important life lessons,” said List. “I always wanted to have a horse as a kid, but it wasn’t in the cards.”
List got her first horse when she moved to the Rogue Valley 20 years ago. She decided to pursue a way to connect kids with horses.
“I thought maybe there were a million horse books for kids and I couldn’t compete,” said List. “There are great classics, but not a lot that are illustrated. There’s books about unicorns and fictional horses, but not real horses.”
Working with illustrators, List soon realized she needed someone who was a horse person.
“There was no way you could educate an illustrator about things they need to understand,” said List. Holbo was working at the stable where List boarded her horse and had broken her arm. One day, Holbo showed up with her cast covered with horse illustrations that she had done with her left hand, although she is right-handed.
The pair agreed to collaborate on the concept, but development took several years as they learned about layout, design and self-publishing, and worked with an editor.
“We just felt really daunted by the whole process,” said List. But the story of Trixie evolved through the struggles.
Holbo grew up around horses in the Greensprings and lives there now. Her dad was a farrier, and her mother a horse instructor. She’s lived with horses all her life and enters competitions with her current horse, Kestrel.
“I’ve always doodled. It didn't occur to me that what I did would ever go into a book,” said Holbo. “There’s lots of horse drawings in my collection.”
The pair considered a Kindle edition only, but opted to go with a print version also so that kids could hold it in their hands. They were going to print 500 copies, but at the last minute List decided to up the order to 3,000. List said she had visions of carting around thousands of copies when she got old.
As of Monday, Amazon had ordered 950 copies. There also have been local sales and book signings at the South Medford Grange Co-op and Barnes & Noble.
List has a career as a technical and marketing writer, and “The Smallest Horse” is her first effort as a book author.
The pair already has created storyboards for the next edition, which will be part of a planned series.
“It’s going to be a little more sweeping in scope,” said Holbo. “I’ve learned a lot doing this (first) book.”
While Trixie is in Silver Lake for the winter, she is often at Arrow Head Ranch where other real horses in the book are stabled at times, including Kestrel, Huey, Indie, Valentine and Augie. Trixie takes part in therapy sessions that follow the Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association's guidelines for addressing mental health needs.
A website, www.ponydreams.com, allows readers to learn even more about Trixie and other horses. The book is available at Grange Co-ops and in Ashland at Treehouse Books, Bloomsbury, Paddington Station and Bug-a-Boo.
— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.