Episode 59: On The Grand Trek, The Cowboy Hat Test & Davenport Arabians with Kathleen Schmitt (Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast)
Episode 59: Welcome to the Equestrian Author Spotlight podcast! In each episode, you’ll hear inspirational stories from horse book authors including writing advice and marketing tips to help you write your own horse book. If you are an author, aspire to be an author, or simply love horse books then you are in the right place!
In this week's episode, you'll meet The Best That Can Happen: The Grand Trek author Kathleen Schmitt. You'll learn ...
Watch Kathleen Schmitt's Interview on YouTube!
Or listen to the audio only version.
About Kathleen Schmitt
Kathleen Schmitt was born in Chicago on January 1 long enough ago that she remembers watching the broadcast of mankind's first steps on the moon. In second grade, she was invited to a horseback riding lesson, at which she instantly discovered her life vocation: horses. Horse-focused summer camps supplemented the usual weekly riding lessons right through high school.
During her senior year of high school, Kathleen worked at Horst and Harriet Haenert’s Pine Grove Farms just outside Scales Mound, Illinois (population under 400, not on every map) and a far cry in every way from her urban upbringing. Among their other horses, the Haenerts bred a distinctive line of horses, Davenport Arabians.
One morning after high school graduation, Harriet remarked that one of their horses, Alibhai, was looking less robust than usual. She speculated that the next winter could be especially hard on him. As a joke, Kathleen suggested riding him to Harriet's sister’s farm in Arizona. Harriet went to get an atlas. The idea of The Grand Trek was born.
Between riding training in Britain and Germany and graduating from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, it took until the first woman was nominated to the Supreme Court before Kathleen got around to undertaking The Grand Trek. The Trekkers – Jack, a National Champion Trail horse, Murphy a half- Davenport with a spotty history as saddle horses go, and Country Boy, a Boxer dog who had a lot of learning to do to fulfill his role as The Pawed Protector – departed from the Lincoln Memorial to hit the road to California.
Over backroads and through rural communities, The Grand Trek mostly paralleled the National Turnpike / Route 40, and therefore followed the general path of European westward settlement. After seven months on the road, Kathleen returned to the East Coast and started a hike up the corporate ladder. Bill Clinton was President when she later stepped off that ladder and returned to her vocation, restoring a formerly prominent horse boarding and training operation to a thriving horse boarding and training facility.
People asked often enough about The Grand Trek that Kathleen resorted to writing some of its more interesting days before, during and after. The result is The Best That Can Happen: The Grand Trek.
Kathleen is working on a sequel about adventures after The Grand Trek.
Kathleen Schmitt Podcast Interview Excerpt
Carly: How many books have you written? What’s your favorite?
Kathleen: I translated a book about the history of the Arabian horse – a rather controversial viewpoint taken in that. I wrote The Seamless Seat for Lyons Press in 2006, and then The Best That Can Happen: The Grand Trek, which is my favorite.
Carly: What made you decide to take your Grand Trek?
Kathleen: The idea came up just after I graduated from high school while I was living at Pine Grave Farms in Scales Mound, Illinois. Over breakfast, the farm matriarch, Harriet, mentioned that one of the horses looked like he might not make it through the next winter. I suggested sending him to her sister in Arizona, which Harriet said they couldn’t afford. As a joke, really, I said she should ride him down there. She said she couldn’t…but I could, and she went to get an atlas!
The seed was planted!
It took me another ten years or so to finally get around to it, but once something like that takes root, I couldn’t not do it.
Carly: Why did you decide to write about your cross country ride?
Kathleen: I was supposed to write a book as soon as I wrapped The Trek up. An agent had a publisher lined up and everything. but at that time it looked pretty much like just a series of “Woke up, rode west some more, camped.” Boring. In the corporate world, people mostly just found it strange, perhaps a tad unprofessional? and I stopped talking about it. But once I started my training facility, I found myself telling some of the same stories again and again, and eventually just wrote them down. It was only over time that I began to understand what was significant about and how it affected my life, during and after.
Carly: How did you go about writing a memoir? How did you get started? Talk us through it.
Kathleen: I basically wrote down stories I found people liked, and strung those together with some before and after stories – like it taking three days and half the county to catch Murphy, the horse, getting a dog, Country Boy, to go on the trip, too (also Harriet;s idea) and getting Country protection trained, planning the route (pointless), and afterwards re-adjusting to suburban life and undertaking a corporate career I was basically not suited for, and about finally coming back to my senses and returning to my vocation with horses.
I also let my imagination fly a bit, so there are some passages that are entirely fiction, and there are one or rants, but I believe the reader will be able to tell those from the real stories quite easily.
Carly: Did you keep a daily journal during your ride or did you just recall these past experiences as best as you can?
Kathleen: I did keep a journal, although not necessarily daily. Not every day on a ride like this is all that memorable! And, as I’ve said, it was only with time that I understood how these kinds of adventures fit into life, and what the real highlights of the trip were.
Carly: Which hurdles did you face when writing this book and how did you overcome them?
Kathleen: Mostly time to write and deciding what is worth writing about. And then there is the editing. I hired a wonderful narrator to make the audiobook, and listening to it was tremendously helpful in spotting mistakes and parts that could be left out, or needed clarification. If I may recommend The Voice of Barbara, she is terrific! And then there is the marketing – haven’t mastered that at all. I did get some great reviews, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten – so far!
Carly: Is there a message in your memoir that you hope readers will grasp?
Kathleen: One: WATER is really important.
Two: Adventures are not always the same as dreams.
Three: Country folks aren’t the same as city folks, and they couldn’t care less.
Carly: What do you do when you aren’t writing?
Kathleen: Work. I've been doing small business accounting for over ten years now. I also spend a fair amount of time on YouTube – remarkable what’s available there. I’m on an Elon Musk kick at the moment.
Carly: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors who want to write a memoir?
Kathleen: Get an audiobook version made. Aside from have another item to sell, it will really help you see if you’ve gotten the tone you want to convey, kind of give a sense of what the reader will be ‘hearing’ in their mind as they read. It is also possible to have Word speak the text for you, which is almost as good for editing purposes, though not, I think for producing an audiobook as such.
I also recommend writing the back cover blurb first, which I have done for the murder mystery I’m working on now. It was really helpful.
Carly: What do you wish you had known when you started out on your author journey?
Kathleen: As an accountant, I can tell you the margins are very slim, especially after taxes and delivery.
Carly: What’s next? What are you curious about right now?
Kathleen: At the end of The Best That Can Happen: The Grand Trek, I rather promised the reader a follow on. As I started thinking about what that might be like, it seemed to me that just barn stories wouldn’t be all that interesting and would have a limited audience. Although Jane Smiley’s Barn Blind would belie that.
I was thinking about an historical fiction tracing the property at which I had my boarding and training facility from before the Colonial era to the present. How does such a property start out as wilderness end up in McMansions?
But another idea was a murder mystery set at the farm, and I’ve started that. The first challenge there was who was to get murdered. I’ve decided it would be me, and now I have to see that the rotten SOB that did me in is brought to justice. The first few chapters have been great fun to write.
Connect with Kathleen Schmitt
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About Your Host Carly Kade
Carly Kade is an award-winning independent author, horse owner, creativity coach, and the host of the Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast. She helps fellow writers start, grow, and expand their author careers. Creative writing makes her spurs jingle!
Carly's award-winning In the Reins equestrian romance book series was written with horse lovers in mind, no matter which discipline they ride. The horses are as vital to moving the story forward as the human characters are.
These books are perfect for poolside reading, taking to the beach, or settling down with after a day of horseback riding.
Books by Carly Kade
Carly Kade writes for anyone who loves horses, handsome cowboys and a great romance. Creative writing about horses makes her spurs jingle!