RAJA, Story of a Racehorse is an award-winning children’s book crafted in the mold of Black Beauty and The Black Stallion, and told through the narrative of a rising star racehorse who lands in precarious circumstances.
Penned by amateur steeplechase jockey and eventer Anne Hambleton of Vermont, the catchy story begins in Ocala, Fla., with the birth of RAJA.
Shortly after he turns two, the dazzling horse can hardly contain his enthusiasm as he enters gate training, and then his first race.
Coaxed by a gentle but firm exercise rider and the daughter of the sheik who owns him, RAJA soon starts winning races.
However, unexpected twists along the way, an accident at the starting gate, and mayhem when he spooks at lightning, torpedo the racehorse’s great career, and send him plummeting in a downward spiral.
But alas, good people surface, and reach out to protect an animal so dear to many.
In this week’s Clubhouse Q&A, Hambleton describes her inspiration for the book, and the hard work it took to create a captivating story that Kirkus Reviews just named to its Best of 2012 Indie List.
Q: How did 40-years in the saddle, as both an amateur steeplechase jockey and avid eventer, lead you to pen a children’s book?
I never harbored any fantasy of being a children’s book author. In fact, in my paid profession, I’ve written government policy and published some pretty wonkish stuff.
But about three years ago, during a long winter in Vermont, where I live, I started thinking about my own horses, who are pretty nice and well bred. And I thought about their lives and how it was possible they’d end up in a farm in Vermont.
Around the same time, I started thinking about how somebody should write a modern-day Black Beauty about racehorses. I never thought I would do it, but I started to write down an outline.
Q: You had some advise from some pretty impressive people who read your first draft.
I did a lot of revisions! Denny Emerson, got an early draft because he used to be a fifth-grade teacher, and I knew him because had been a working student for him in the early 80s.
He read it and his comment to me was, well, RAJA needs a little more emotion.
He told me to go back and read The Black Stallion Revolts. He even pinpointed scenes for me. I couldn’t help but think that those same books inspired him to become one of the most influential people in riding today.
RAJA wound up having everything to do with Black Beauty. It’s the story of his autobiography and all the good and bad things that happen to him, which is similar to what happens in the real world of horses.
Q: How did you find the childlike voice that you gave to the horses?
One luxury I have about being in the horse world is that I don’t have to imagine how things are from my apartment somewhere. I have horses of my own, and I can go to the barn, close my eyes, and soak in the smells and the sounds.
I can go to an auction and think about what I’m feeling, and imagine what the horse could be feeling too.
When I’ve put horses on a trailer and taken them somewhere else, I imagine it must be so disruptive. Trying to think of this from a horse’s perspective, I imagine how differently the see the world, with people coming and going, without explanation.
Q: Your book opens in Ocala, Fla., where RAJA grows up to be a strapping two-year-old, and takes on the racing world.
I had a long discussion with a racehorse trainer, and we plotted a path that RAJA could have taken to get from Florida to the Derby. He goes to Saratoga and then to Belmont, and then he does the Champagne Stakes.
It turns out that Union Rags took a similar path in his route to the Derby!
But, RAJA faces a lot of obstacles. He has a deep fear of lightning, which is critical to the plot, and he has an accident in the starting gate that ends his future as a stud horse.
He changes hands several times, and eventually lands at an auction where a meat buyer bids on him.
Q: I understand that for the remainder of the week, ending Dec. 21, you’re offering a wonderful promotion.
I am running a special for this week only. Every book purchased via the book website, www.rajaracehorse.com using the following code: RAJARACEHORSRRTP1112 will receive a discount of $4 and $4 per book will be donated to the Retired Racehorse Training Project.
Deadline is noon on Friday for Christmas delivery!