Episode 020 - Children’s Book Author,
Jill Thomas

Join as Author of the series “Quarter Horse Kids”, Jill Thomas shares about her life and the writing process. Inspired by her daughter's involvement in AQHYA, created the "Quarter Horse Kids" series. Her books spotlight the breed's versatility in engaging ways for readers of all ages. Jill's authentic approach, often collaborating with real riders, aims to educate and inspire a love for American Quarter Horses. Her series continues to expand, celebrating the breed's diverse talents and connections with riders young and old.

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Podcast Transcript

Taylor McAdams: You're listening to the Kick Your Boots Up Podcast where we swap stories of the West. Whether you're just waking up or getting in for the day, come on in and kick your boots up. Welcome, and thanks for joining us on the Kick Your Boots Up podcast. I'm your host Taylor McAdams and this week's guest is sure to leave you shocked. The renowned children's book author Jill Thomas has traveled the world doing her research, shedding light on the Quarter Horse breed as a whole through the child's the kids perspective. Jill, thank you so much for clearing your schedule and taking the time to be with us on the Kick Your Boots Up podcast.

Jill Thomas: Oh, it's my absolute pleasure to be here. Thank you so much.

Taylor McAdams: Of course. And you know, I originally got to meet you through a sweet girl named Steely, that we'll get to talk to talk about a little bit later. But I just want to say, first of all, thank you for being an advocate for the industry. There's the horse showing industry as a whole but also the American Quarter Horse Association. I know your family runs deep and your your roots are there in the AQHA so I guess to start things off, tell us about how you got started writing the writing in the western industry as an AQHA showman horseman.

Jill Thomas: Um, well, to go way back as a kid, I had horses but um, we just we didn't do a whole lot of showing then. But when my daughter was about seven our neighbor had a pony that she needed a new home for. So we ended up getting some horses again. And as my daughter progressed, a natural progression was to move up to AQHA showing. And so that's what she did for a number of years through high school. She was national secretary of AQHYA twice a and took advantage of all the really, really wonderful programs that the youth associate association has available. She was able to do the the, the the World Cup and she was able to do the racing experience. So I can't say enough about AQHA for kids in general. After she went off to college, we were horseless for a while and then I just couldn't stay away. So I ended up getting a horse for myself and had a Palomino for a few years and ended up selling them now if I were CJ who I show in mostly east coast but national, national all around events, I do horsemanship, showmanship and equitation. And I have the privilege and honor to be with Gretchen Mathis and Gino Spagnola. Gino was just the head of the Professional Horsemen's Association. And Gretchen is a longtime member of the professional Horsemen's Association as well. And I'm also lucky enough to work with my assistant trainer Thomas Lampson. So I'll give him a little shout out to.

Taylor McAdams: Wow Jill, you have a story to tell and a resume a mile long. I really love the backstory of this here. Because in order to write about things, you have to really understand it and it feels like you have gone way beyond researching it living it. But I want to back up a little bit for those of you out there that don't know what AQHYA is, it's the American Quarter Horse Youth Association. And that's a great opportunity for you to get involved. I know that they do camps and there's all kinds of leadership opportunities, let alone not only horseback riding to through the AQHA, so little shout out to there and a little plug there. But I kind of want to mention you touched about your daughter, how important was it for you that she got started in it that she really that you got to travel to all those shows with her. And you guys got to have that bond I feel like that has kind of gone full circle for you now that you're starting to write about the book. So tell us about your experience there with your daughter at all those shows and the bond that you guys created. 

Jill Thomas: You know, it was really really wonderful um, as anybody who's in not just AQHA and AQHYA knows if you're in the horse, the horse world, you develop a whole community of supporters and participants and competitors. And with all three of the books that I've done so far, that community is just so evident in every single type of showing or competing. And so it was a it was a huge part of our lives when my daughter was showing and it's it's definitely a huge part of my life now now that I'm showing as a select rider. I can't say enough about the inclusion and the fun and the camaraderie and all of that that goes with any of the writing disciplines any any riding discipline you choose. Especially with a quarter horse is going to just your be so included in a community.

Taylor McAdams: Oh, I couldn't agree more you do become yes a show family. There's a lot of different families out there within the industry. And this is a niche that everyone wants to capitalize on. Just the camaraderie there I mean, I hear so many and I've lived stories personally where your horse will be not clicking and you get to share horses, someone will let you borrow a horse or someone will let you they'll just help in so many different ways. So kind of elaborate a little bit more on the behind-the-scenes family life aspect. I know you guys will pack lunches or you'll, you'll have a pot- potluck lunch and one of the stalls talk to us about the camaraderie there.

Jill Thomas: That's true. So the showing that I do, we usually gone between seven and 10 days. So we're on the road for a long time. And Briella, who is the star of the first book, The All-around Ryder book, she showed her the same shows that I show at she still does. So she's she gets to do the whole living in the camper thing with their friends. And, you know, going out to dinners and things like that. And yes, there are those potluck dinners that we do and stuff like that. When I was doing the rodeo book with Steely, that that community is just amazing. They have a couple of years ago, they actually had a huge hurricane come through where they lived. And their personal property got dis damaged quite a bit. And they had so many other people reaching out from other states saying that they could, they would come and pick up the horses and horses could stay there, and other rodeo families who just put them up for days and days and weeks at a time and things like that. And same with the eventing, the eventing families, the parents of the other kids who come to these things, just make sure that everybody's got food, they're all got water that you know, does anybody need anything and it there's just so there's so much help and happiness at, and each one of them is a little bit different, you know, the all-around people, they spend days at a show the rodeo people maybe spend a weekend unless they're going to a big show, like Little Britches or something like that. And in the event or people usually just a weekend or even just a day, but such similar communities throughout?

Taylor McAdams: Oh, yes, well, said I could I could not have even said it better myself. I love that you've gotten to have the experience while writing these books. And before we move on to talking more about your books in the series that it's in. Let's talk a little bit about how you got started writing. How did you begin began to pick up the pen and pencil or to start typing up the different manuscripts of your books.

Jill Thomas: Oh, well, Gosh, Darn I this is going to date me a little bit. When I was a kid, maybe 11 or 12, a book came out called a very young rider by Jill Clements, and she had written a series of books about different sports, not just horses. She also had a very young skater and a very young skier. But of course, being horse crazy like I was, I gravitated to a very young rider. And I loved the book. It just I had so many dreams and hopes and ambitions to become this, this rider who was in the hunter-jumper world at that time. And this the book stuck with me for a really long time. And when my daughter started to show, AQHA shows and stuff like that. I just saw that there were so many different ways to be involved with quarter horses. You know, you could do trail riding, you can do Barrows, you can do cutting and reining and eventing and dressage. And, you know, it's just so much stuff that you can do with a quarter horse. I just thought it might be a really neat way to highlight all the really cool things that you can do with quarter horses. And so I finally got to a point in my life where I could do it. I had some time I had the time to do it, and reached out to another trainer in Connecticut Whitney Legacy. And asked if she had any youth kids because we didn't add our barn. We didn't have any youth kids. And she put me in touch with Briella and kind of took it from there. 

Taylor McAdams: Well, then the yes, let's get started on talking about Briella. The first book of this series is called “An All-Around Rider” and it showcases Briella who was 12 at the time, as she was preparing for an AQHA show American Quarter Horse Association show. And talk to us about your experience there. I know that you said you guys are at the same same shows and you still are talking about the inspo behind there and a few stories from the book. Obviously don't give the whole thing away because we want people to go read it.

Jill Thomas: Well, this is the book. I don't know if you can see that. This is the book. What I really wanted to highlight in this besides just the the fun parts that Briella you know, enjoys, you know, the the going out to dinner and having the water fights at the wash rack and things like that. I also wanted to really highlight what it means to be an all-around rider. And so I started with some background with her practicing during the winter, the spring and winter at her barn and Connecticut, and a little bit of horse care, although none of these books are actual horse care books. They're more experiential books, I guess, is what my hope is. And then I followed her to Georgia and was able to take a bunch of pictures there. But included in the book are explanations of what some of the classes are with patterns. So when we talk about doing horsemanship, there's actually a horsemanship pattern in the book. We talked about doing trail. There's, it's not like a rulebook. But it just points out some of the things that are required for these different classes and points out some of the things that are easy for Briella. And Wyatt, her horse or horse's name is Wyatt, some of the things that are challenging for all of us who are doing pattern classes. Some of the, like I said, some of the fun parts, but also some of the stuff that's not so much fun, her horse ends up getting sick, and has to go over to the vet. So you know, I've tried to put some of that in there as well. There's a little bit about horseshoeing in there. But for the most part, it's just like following somebody around who's participating in an all-around show. And these are some of the things that you might do. And these are some of the things you might see. And there's even at the end like a page spread of how difficult it is to actually get that winning photo. If you if you win something, sometimes you want to get a backdrop photos and how hard it is to get everybody lined up in the horse and all of that. So there's a little spread on that as well.

Taylor McAdams: I love that. And with this being a nonfiction series, I think this is really, really great for any parents or aunts and uncles, grandmas, grandpas who are who have kids that want to get started riding horses, but maybe they didn't grow up with horses, I think this is a perfect opportunity for them to learn together and create that bonding experience. And I think you've done a great job. I know personally, moving on to the next book, the rodeo cowgirl reading that for myself was very, very interesting because I grew up in rodeo and I learned from a very young age what it was like, and I was still able to take away something because it was from Steely’s perspective. And being a kid and looking at the world and trying to do those horsemanship patterns, trying to make the fastest barrel run whatever it is. It's challenging. So I think you've painted a really good picture and kind of talking more about Steely, tell us about her story, again, without giving the giving it away, because we want we want everyone to go out and read the different disciplines. 

Jill Thomas: Well, let me back up just one second here saying about how helpful it is maybe for parents and grandparents. My husband actually finally read my book, “The All-Around Rider” and he actually said I learned more reading that book than I've learned in 15 years watching you guys show. So that I hope that I can reach some parents and grandparents and some dads out there who maybe are not at the shows all the time. Anyway, moving on to Steely what a wonderful kid what a fantastic family. She is lucky enough to have parents and grandparents who grew up in the rodeo world. And in she loves what she does. So she has three horses for different disciplines because when you reach a certain level, one horse generally doesn't do everything. They you can't have a jack-of-all-trades kind of horse at a certain level. So it was really fun to go and for me to see the difference in the in the two worlds coming from all around the world and going to the rodeo world. All of these horses are really high performers. But to see the difference in how they perform was amazing to me.  

Taylor McAdams: And courage, bravery. That is not something I have these kids are fast, fast, fast and young. I mean, steely was 11 at the time when you were following her around on this journey and fearless 11 and fearless. I feel like she was fearless. Actually, I don't even feel like it's a true fact. She was running faster barrel times than I ever ran in my entire career. So more props to her and I will say I've got to give a little tidbit a little sneak peek for everyone out there. If you haven't purchased the book you need to go As you might find a picture of yours truly, I was actually fortunate enough to be part of the journey of you writing this story. And when you guys first stepped in, I thought, Wow, is this really real? Is this really going to become a book? And so Jill, I've gotta commend you hats off to you. You have I mean, I've seen the work that you put into this blood, sweat and tears probably going into this. And it shows I mean, the dedication that you have the passion that you have, for even just showing, showcasing to kids that life is okay. And it's actually better with horses. I think that's a good, good avenue for them to have, but kind of moving on to the Vinter, 14-year-old. So she's a little bit older Katherine, she does. She does dressage cross country and stadium jumping something that I am not familiar with at all. So talk to us about that.

Jill Thomas: So I found, so I found Steely with just putting something on the Facebook page, looking for I just put out there that I was looking for the next quarter horse kids star, and I had a whole bunch of kids send me responses to that and ended up picking Steely. For the event, or I did something a little bit different. I have a fairly sizable eventing venue about 20 minutes from me. So I reached out to them and asked if they knew of any kids who showed a court horse, and they put me in touch with Katherine. Well, they put Katherine in touch with me, and she reached out to me. So that's how we that's how I hooked up with her. But I also know very little about eventing, I knew that it consisted of dressage and stadium jumping and cross country, and that's about where it stopped for me. But we all know eventing because if you watch the Olympics, that's what they're doing. They're they're doing dressage, but then the the whole, the whole other parts of it is the three-day eventing thing, where they start with a dressage test, which is a pattern it's a pattern and the horse, the horses movement is being judged there. It's not so much on the rider, you don't want to be distracting when you're riding dressage. But they're not judging if your heels are down, or if you're sitting up straight or anything like that, they're really looking at how the horse is moving, and you get scores for every single maneuver. So it's a little bit like the all around patterns where you get scores for that too. But it's really about how the quality of the horses movement and how obedient they are, and stuff like that. The next event is stadium jumping, which is all about time and knock downs. So again, the bravery of these kids is something that I never had. So I got to watch Katherine whip around the stadium course. And if you knock something down, that counts against you. But it's the fastest time with no knock downs. So that that was pretty impressive to watch, too. And some things they need to really work on there or look for there are keeping your corners really tight, but not so tight, that the horse doesn't have a chance to get over the jump properly. So there's a lot of cutting corners and things like that, but it was a lot of fun. And then they go to the cross country which level it up, again, the bravery and the courage and all of that. And these kids are just galloping around you two or three mile course, through the woods, through the water up things down things over drops and all kinds of stuff. Amazing, amazing to see how, how much skill these kids have. And it was kind of fun to see, you know, being done on a core horse. So

Taylor McAdams: Oh, yeah, without a doubt, and I grew up watching the show saddle club. And I feel like this this part of it, I've got to get my hands on this book as well just because I feel like it's going to take me back to the days when I would pretend I was a jumper in the arena or I would pretend that I was that this is a real-world experience. So I've got to admire that and I admire you again for doing all the research and just diving into it and becoming comfortable in the uncomfortable. That's really really encouraging and I've got to ask Inquiring minds want to know is there another Is there plans for another book in the series?

Jill Thomas: Um, I would like there to be I would like there to be I have ideas for several others. But my husband has said I need to actually start selling some books. I need to I need to start making them be a profitable thing. So I've spent a fair bit of time the last few months working on marketing, which really isn't my forte I'm I'm good with writing the books and taking the pictures and all of that stuff. But being in front of the camera or being the salesperson is more of a challenge for I mean, similar to, you know, some of these young riders who, you know, maybe you Steely is better at, at the barrels than she is at the goat tying or you know, there's always, there's always something that you would that you're stronger at then then other things. So,

Taylor McAdams: as well, I'm cheering you on on that. I know you got it, I noticed that you have an Instagram, and I follow you now. So that's really cool to watch, too. But kind of moving on to our final few questions here. What is your writing process? When you go through these books? Is it? Obviously, you have to do your research. But do you just have things come to you at 3am? And you wake up and you write them down? What do you what do you use? What do you do?

Jill Thomas: Yes, actually, yes, that happens to so I start with taking lots of pictures, I probably for Steely’s, for the rodeo book, I probably took close to 2,000 photos. So I you know, I have to whittle that all down. And I asked so many questions, I'm sure that steelies family and Catherine's family and Briella were just not real so much, because I already knew a lot about that one. But the other two, probably got so sick of answering probably what they thought were really dumb questions. But, you know, that's I, I really enjoy learning about different disciplines and different sports and things like that. And I learned way more than I was able to include in the books. So after I sort of take all my notes, I kind of start a rough draft of what I think the book is going to be, again, I want to put in a little bit of horse care as, as it comes along. I don't I haven't manufactured anything to include in the books just sort of as it comes along during the day during the weekend during the week that I'm with the kids. And then after I get a rough draft started, it's pretty easy to see that I have holes. So sometimes they have to reach out or go back for another visit. To fill in those holes. Like, yeah, my pictures with this particular idea didn't come through. So I need to take some more pictures or ask the parents to give me a little bit more background information on this, that or the other thing. After I get a pretty good rough draft i I'll go through and edit. And it's more than I have. Yeah, then I have a I have a an editor who I've been working with. She goes through and does a an edit basically on does it flow? Well? Does it make sense? Do the ideas go together? Things like that, should we move this piece there instead of here? Then I'll work on it smaller, then it goes back to her and she does like a proofreading copy editing kind of thing, and then actually send it to my mom and dad who are very detail oriented. As far as you know, the comma needs to be here. And you know, there's a spelling mistake there. That kind of thing. So, yeah, and then off it goes to Amazon.

Taylor McAdams: Wow, what a process. I mean, that's, that's incredible to think that you've you've gone through all of that to get the book and and it just adds so much more meaning and to have your parents as editors to that's got to be such a timeless thing that you'll have that those memories and that experience with you forever. And before we run out of time, I've got to ask one final question. What is some advice that you'd have for anyone out there it doesn't matter their age wanting to get involved in one of these disciplines or American Quarter Horse Association in general. Just tell us what what would you tell them if they wanted to get involved?

Jill Thomas: Well, you can get involved in AQHA and AQHYA. Even if you don't have a horse, you don't have to have a horse to participate in these organizations. And the each state has their own statewide organization. And then there's the national stuff. If you want to get involved in actually riding or competing for AQHA sanctioned shows like The all-around rider, then you probably want to try to find yourself a good trainer who's already involved with AQHA. If you're interested in rodeo, or eventing or raining or cutting or any of the other millions of things you can do with a quarter horse. You don't need to be associated with a trainer per se. So even though a quarter horses are really really versatile, they don't have sponsored or sanctioned competitions in every discipline that you can use a quarter horse in.

Taylor McAdams: Well, very good. Thank you for sharing your your two cents there, I know that you're a valuable resource and everyone can reach out to you. And speaking of reaching out, we've got to give yourself a plug, tell us about where we can find your book where we can go to buy it. And then where can we follow you along on social media on your journey and the sales process, the marketing process, all of it.

Jill Thomas:  All right. So I have a website, it's quarterhorsekids.com. I'm also on Facebook and Instagram under the same thing. And the books are available as paperback, hardcover, or ebooks on Amazon. So that pretty easy to find there. And if you click on one of them, you'll be able to find all three of them. 

Taylor McAdams: Very nice. And I recommend buying the full set because if you give a mouse a cookie, they're gonna want a glass of milk. Same concept. If you're going to read one book, you might as well read all three. I know I'm on my way to get the other two. Jill, it has been so nice talking with you. Thank you for taking the time and share with us more about the writing process behind quarterhorse kids and the stories of the kids that you use. Your heart is gold, and I wish you the very best with all of your sales, marketing and everything with the book.

Jill Thomas: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. And it's my pleasure and honor to be with you.

Taylor McAdams: Jill, you're awesome. I wish you the best. Have a great day. Thanks for joining us on Kick Your Boots Up. I'm your host Taylor McAdams and we can't wait to share the next story of the West. Until then, feel free to like subscribe, and leave us a review. Follow us on social media at Justin Boots to keep up with our next episode. And we'll see you the next time you kick your boots up.