Interview with Sarah Hickner

Sarah Hickner with Silas

I love horses! So does our guest today. She has lived every Black Stallion-lover’s dream and now writes a blog, short stories and memoirs about her life with these majestic creatures.

Nicola: Welcome, Sarah! We would love to know about your career in horse racing.

Sarah: When I was a kid, so many of the books I read revolved around horse racing. There’s so much heart that goes into racing. The horses, first. They are bred for it, and most of them love it. You can see and feel their drive to win. They love to race. Even on trail rides, my horse, who has been off the track for 12 years, will do whatever it takes to keep up with the horse in front of it and pass it if possible. 

Nicola: What was your most exciting ride on the track?

Sarah: There have been way too many exciting rides in my life! Some that made my heart soar, some that made me think I just might die, so it really depends on what kind of exciting we’re going for here.

One ride that has always been really memorable was when I was working on the track for a barn that I really loved. It was the first time galloping racehorses really clicked for me. I was on this little colt I had ridden several times who was always well behaved, and the groom was leading me in a circle while we waited on another rider who was going to gallop with me.

When the other rider came out of the barn, my horse stood straight up on his back legs, like he was a stallion in the wild challenging another stallion. He did this twice before I got myself together and got all four hooves back on the ground and heading towards the track. Then when we were on the track you always pause for a few minutes before you turn and gallop. You just sit and let the horse relax.

We were standing there doing our customary wait time, and the little guy did it again! Straight up in the air. The trainer told me I was so light he forgot I was up there and I needed to remind him I was there. It was a solid lesson I’ve held onto. I never sit on a horse too long without doing something to remind it I’m there and we’re working. Usually I stroke his neck and tell them what a good job they’re doing. 

Nicola: Exercise Riders are hired for being light. I never imagined it could be that kind of liability. I am a mild risk taker, but I cringe every time I think about the dangers you are in, galloping on the track. Did you ever fall off during a race, or have a horse fall under you?

Sarah: I had just moved to Kentucky and had been working on the track for a couple weeks. It was everything I had hoped it would be, and I was loving it.

I was galloping a gigantic two year old we called Red when his foot got stuck in a piece of equipment that jerked his head down, causing a rotational fall. He rolled over me and while we were tumbling he popped me in the face with his hoof. My teeth were pretty mangled, one was even pushed back into my face, literally out of sight and it had to come back down over time like when it had come in the first time.

Several other things happened around the same time that just truly rocked my world to be honest. I just remember walking around in this fog of putting one foot in front of the other and trying to make it one more day. Now when I look back I can see how much God was in it, and the ways he truly took care of me.

I also see how many people who barely even knew me stepped up to help. I kind of love the perspective of distance and wish I could have coffee with every single person in my life back them and tell them how grateful I am for them. Maybe I’ll visit Louisville one day and do that!

Nicola: They would be thrilled to see you again! You’d stay up all night reminiscing. Writing is your second, or third career now. How has your relationship with horses grown as you’ve advocated for giving retired racehorses a second career?

Sarah: I’ve always been passionate about giving racehorses second careers. So many people talk about “rescuing” racehorses, but to be honest the horses I rode on the track lived better lives than I could ever afford to give a horse! So I hate to call it rescuing, but most horses are done on the racetrack by the time they’re 4 years old, and they have a lot of life left to live.

They’ve had this incredible experience where their riding training is very basic – go, stop, and turn – but they’re accustomed to top to bottom grooming, crowds of people, gates that burst open when bells ring.

Thoroughbreds have a reputation for being crazy and nervous, but honestly most horses are reflecting their riders, and most riders sit on a thoroughbred expecting a nervous horse and therefore they make the horse nervous.

One thing I learned on the track is these guys are just gigantic babies who need a confident leader to love them and guide them. When they have that it’s like they take a deep breath and become the solid citizen God made them to be. I love being able to be that for the horse and then helping the horse find a sport he or she shines in. It’s what I imagine watching your kids grow up and find a career is like, except with thoroughbreds it’s a much faster process!

Nicola: That is a beautiful way of describing the relationship between horse and rider! In the Leoshine Series, I have Avram, the leader of the invading force, and Paulos, his war stallion. Avram talks about his horse as one of his soldiers, skilled and reliable and responsive to his leadership.

Please tell us about your writing. You write fiction and non-fiction, short stories and longer works.

Sarah: I’m working on a memoir about my time in Kentucky on the track. I just crossed over 30,000 words on it and my goal is 80-90,000! That’s really the main thing – I started working on the memoir 10 years ago and then restarted it last year. When I look at the first things I wrote, I’m embarrassed that I ever showed it to anyone. haha! So writing all the short pieces have definitely helped me improve my craft.

I released a book of short stories in March. Stories From the Barn Aisle:Real Life Tales of Humor and Grace from a Horse Obsessed Girl

Being a horse-obsessed, big dreamer, I refused to wait until I was older or had more money to chase the experiences I read about in books. Because of this, my life with horses has been full of adventure, mistakes, and learning the hard way. Stories from the Barn Aisle is my 30+ year old self telling some of those stories. I think of it as a letter of encouragement to all the other gritty horse lovers in the world, and a love letter to myself – I did those things, I made those mistakes, I learned, I had fun, and now I can see it all with grace and humor. I hope you can too!

~Sarah, the author of Stories from the Barn Aisle.

Sarah: I started writing for Middleburg Life and Streamhorse TV because I was taking one of Thomas Umstadt Jr’s courses. I knew if I was writing a memoir I needed to start doing things to build my platform, so I reached out to Middleburg Life. I had a friend who wrote for them so she gave me the editors contact info. I sent the editor a sample of my work, and she said yes! It’s been pretty surreal to write for them and see my articles printed in such a beautiful magazine.

I started writing for StreamhorseTV because we randomly got connected on Instagram! It was under new ownership and the new owner was working to really grow Streamhorse’s reach. Its become a great partnership. 

Nicola: You share very generously out of the wisdom you have earned. You are also open and honest about what and when you fear. One thing you wrote that sticks with me is, the strongest voice in your head is your own.

Sarah: When fear hits it can often be the loudest voice, but I don’t want to say it’s the strongest. I’ve learned a ton about affirmations, overcoming negative thinking, and so much other personal development stuff through my Mary Kay business.

For me I find that fear comes in waves. I have this theory that if it’s scary it’s probably something I should do. Most of what I do scares me – releasing my first book scared me so much, starting the podcasts, jumping on my horse.

Normally I face fear head on and plow through it – it’s the easiest way to handle it because the Bible is quite clear that fear isn’t from God and that we should choose faith. Joshua 1:9 says to be strong and courageous because the Lord will be with us where ever we go. It’s clear.

But sometimes, no matter how bullheaded I can be and how clear the Bible is, fear starts as a tiny seed and slowly over time grows into this monstrous blob and I don’t notice it until it’s too late and I’m shaking in my boots. That’s when it’s hard. I’ve learned to a) hand it over to God. pray over it and remember I’m in His hands. and b) use positive affirmations to overcome it.

We have thousands of thoughts racing through our brains every day and when fear becomes a problem is when those thoughts are hijacked and our brains become full of negative self talk – can’ts, won’ts, what if’s, and I’m not good enough because. So when it finally hits me that I’ve been living in fear, it’s time to affirm myself.

For a long time I struggled with this because a lot of self help books will tell you to say something like, “I am rich. Money flocks to me” and I just didn’t feel good about that. I felt like a fraud. Instead I affirm myself with God’s promises. For example, If I feel like I’m not good and I’ll never be good enough, I say, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. The key is, you’ve got to say it over and over and over. I have friends who set alarms on their phones to help them remember to affirm themselves.

Nicola: Wow! More generosity! You put your life experience right out there for us to learn from.

You have two podcasts, LiveRideLearn, about the horsey life, and Author Shenanigans where you interview authors. (Of course I’m hoping to be one, when Leoshine, Princess Oracle comes out :))

Sarah: I have loved interviewing authors. So far I only interview authors whose books I’ve read and couldn’t put down – its the ones who keep me up all night that I ask to be on the show. When I finish the book and I think of getting a chance to interview them, questions are racing through my mind.

Usually the questions revolve around their craft and how they came up with their ideas – especially if it’s a book that transported me to another time and place. I keep a note in my phone with author questions so I write them down while the book is still fresh in my mind.

But also I truly want to get to know them. The older I get the more I am fascinated by how different yet similar we all are. It’s kind of like being at the gym. I used to think a perfect body was one shape, but now I look and I see all different bodies and curves and lines and it’s just incredible how different we all are. 

Nicola: Yes! Oh, I’m really excited to hear you say that. We are the same in so many ways. Way more than we are different. Can you share a favourite memory from Author Shenanigans! 

Sarah: The highlight so far has been interviewing Stephanie Dray and Kate Quinn. That came about because of a random instagram post, and then I had historical fiction royalty on my zoom line! They told the funniest shenanigans stories, but what stuck with me was Stephanie Dray saying she rewrote her prologue I think it was somewhere like 40 times. And Kate Quinn, her gal pal super successful writer, read them all.

It was their commitment to the process and to creating an excellent work, and also their commitment to each other that blew me away. Also Kate Quinn told me she has probably 11 manuscripts that will never be published and she doesn’t think of it as a loss – she sees it as part of the growth process.  Most authors laugh (or cry) about the one manuscript that will never see the light of day, and she’s got 11! No wonder she has books that are top 20 in the entire Amazon store. She’s put the work into developing her craft – it wasn’t just magic or pure talent, it was hard work and dedication.

Nicola: Who are you going to interview next?

Sarah: I’m not sure who my next interview will be with! I have 3 people waiting for me to schedule. I never schedule until I read their book and I’ve been spending a lot of time writing my memoir so I’m a bit slower on the reading. 

Nicola: Thank you for taking time to speak with MicAndPen today. We didn’t even touch on how you write for Moms, and your busy life at home. You have been very generous, and we are grateful!

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