Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch

Waiting for my first real horse

I’ve been writing books for Storey since 1997 (starting with Your Calf: A Kid’s Guide to Raising and Showing Beef and Dairy Calves), so maybe it’s time I introduce myself. I’ve written about horses and cattle since the 1960s — actually, starting in 1957, when I was in seventh grade and sold my first story to a children’s magazine. Only recently, however, have I cautiously entered the realm of Web sites and the Internet. Over the course of 35 years I wore out three antique typewriters writing several thousand articles for horse and livestock publications and eight books. I didn’t start using a computer until 1995, when some of my editors insisted I send manuscripts on disks (rather than typewritten) and then via e-mail.

So, little by little, I’ve moved into the modern era of communication, and this is my first posting on a Web site! I look forward to being able to share my life and experiences more fully with my readers.

Until my first horse comes along, any equine will do!

My life passion has been horses and cattle. As a small child I was infatuated with horses. Before I could talk, my favorite toy was a cloth-covered stuffed horse. His name was Shorshay — my version of “horsey.” By the time I could walk, I was galloping around the house on my “black stallion” — the black handle of an old dust mop that I used as a stick horse. I dreamed of having a real horse, but at that time my parents lived in town and had no place to keep one.

My dad was the Methodist minister in the small rural community of Salmon, Idaho. I saved all my pennies and nickels to buy a horse, and by the time I was nine — and my parents finally gave in to my pleas for a horse — I’d saved $5.54 cents. The day we went to buy old “Possum,” an elderly gelding whose young owner was replacing him with a younger, faster horse, I found another penny and was able to apply $5.55 cents to the $50 purchase price.

My brother and I riding old Possum when I was ten

I loved that old horse and rode him every day that summer. A rancher on the hill above town kept him for us, and I hiked up there (about 1.5 miles) carrying Possum’s bridle, rode him bareback all over the outskirts of town for hours, then took him back to his pasture and hiked home again. Not having a saddle, and being very short, I climbed on him bareback wherever I could find a fence or stump to get up on. Sometimes, however, there was nothing to climb on, so the old horse and I worked out a system. While his head was down grazing, he’d let me straddle his neck. Then he’d obligingly raise his head, and I’d slide back to his withers and be on horseback!

The next year, when I was ten, my parents bought a small acreage and cabin 16 miles from town, up a little creek, where we spent summers. Now we had a place to keep Possum and a mare named Nosey. She came into our lives by chance. The local grocery store was owned by a rancher who raised horses. As a promotional scheme, every dollar spent at the store entitled the customer to a ticket toward a “palomino pony.” At the end-of-year drawing, my mom had the winning number; the pony had met with an unfortunate accident, however, and the rancher substituted Nosey — a big buckskin mare who became a useful ranch horse and packhorse. My younger brother and I rode Possum and Nosey all over the mountains and canyons above our little cabin.

My brother (riding Scrappy), my dad (riding Possum),
and me (riding Ginger), heading out from our ranch
to ride range and check cattle in 1957.

The fall of 1955, when I was in sixth grade, my parents bought the small ranch below our little cabin. Now we had cows as well as horses, and my dreams came true. This is what I wanted most in life — to be a cowgirl! I also loved to write and spent hours writing stories about horses and other animals. When I was in seventh grade, my father sent one of my stories to our church publication for children, Trails for Juniors, and the editor purchased it for $10.

I realized that I could actually earn money doing something I loved and began writing more stories to send to children’s magazines, then articles to horse and livestock magazines. By the time I went to college in the fall of 1962, I’d sold 36 pieces to various publications, writing mostly about horses and cattle. Writing became a passion. My goal with my animals was to learn all I could about taking care of them and sharing my experiences and knowledge with others. In the 50-plus years since those first early efforts, I’ve written more than 10,000 stories and articles, and 20 books.

To be continued. . . .

Heather Smith Thomas raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses, Storey's Guide to Training Horses, Stable Smarts, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Your Calf, Getting Started with Beef and Dairy Cattle, Storey's Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Essential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook.


Kate G. said...

Hey, that was a wonderful post. So wonderful to read about a writer's beginnings. I think there's a picture book in there featuring that $5.55 horse.

Alethea Morrison, Storey Creative Director said...

Wow, what a terrific story. Thanks for sharing it!

Alethea Morrison, Storey Creative Director said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rosemary m said...

I throughly enjoyed viewing "Notes from Sky Range Ranch" and getting to know Heather Smith Thomas a little better through this interesting blog.I have found her books and articles to be most informative in my life raising cattle and horses...Please keep up the good work, Heather...Best to you, Rosemary M.