Horseback Riding: Writing Into the Sunset
Follow one freelance journalist’s venture to get better with writing and horses.
By Olivia Wilkes | November 10, 2013
Pay a visit to Tom Moates’ farm where he lives among the Blue Ridge Mountains in Floyd, Virginia, and you’ll find this author and freelance writer doing just as much riding as writing.
Tom is not only an award-winning author and freelance journalist but an enthusiastic horseman, as well. He combines these two interests and writes his books and the majority of his articles on horses.
Tom has always loved to write, even as a child.
“I always aspired to be a writer,” he says. “Certainly by high school age, I was serious about becoming one.”
He acquired a degree in writing from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Immediately after graduating from college, Tom began to pursue his ambition of being a writer. As he submitted stories to magazines, he met with many rejections, but received some acceptances too.
When Tom first took up freelance writing, his articles were primarily about homesteading and off-the-grid living.
“I was a leading writer on the subject of renewable energy – mainly solar, wind and hydro-electric power,” he says.
Tom also wrote about traditional building methods, such as stonework and log cabin restoration. His works were published in magazines like Mother Earth News and Country Journal, to name a few.
However, Tom’s dream of being a full-time freelance journalist wasn’t realized overnight. The aspiring writer worked at other jobs to earn enough money to live on, while at the same time penning articles and hoping to establish himself in the industry. His jobs varied from working for a renewable energy contractor, to running his own company that specialized in building and restoring log cabins and timber frame structures. He even worked for many years as a professional stagehand for some of the most prominent rock and country music shows in the United States, as well as for many of the major touring Broadway shows that performed near his home.
“All while writing and writing and trying hard to make it my livelihood,” Tom says. “My brother says I was an overnight sensation with my horse books; it only took me 20 years!”
So where do horses fit into all of this? Around 2004, after Tom had been married for about 10 years, his wife, Carol, saw an ad in a local newspaper for an Amish-trained Quarter Horse. The couple went to look at the horse and wound up buying him.
“That was Niji,” says Tom, “and he began both my obsession with horses and began my career as an equestrian author and journalist. When my obsession with writing met my obsession with horses, my career catapulted to a whole new level.”
Though Tom had minimal experience with horses, limited to being around them a bit as a kid and hopping on a horse for a ride once or twice in the past, he was eager to learn and threw himself into his horsemanship and writing with enthusiasm. Perhaps the most important event in Tom’s horsemanship journey came when he met Harry Whitney, a gifted clinician. When Tom attended his first clinic of Harry’s and witnessed how the horseman focuses on seeing things from the horse’s point of view, the way Tom looked at his own relationship with his horses changed drastically.
“I couldn’t have imagined then what a tremendous friend I was about to get to know, and I had no idea that I’d be learning horsemanship on the level that I have been blessed to do since then!” Tom says.
Tom now follows the teachings of Harry Whitney in his books and articles, both explaining Harry’s concepts and relating his own personal experiences as the writer strives to get better with horses.
Tom’s first book, “Discovering Natural Horsemanship,” was published in 2006, two years after Niji came to live with the Moateses. Since that time, Tom has written five more books, all of them on horses and four of which make up his most popular “Journey into Honest Horsemanship series.” Though Tom loves all the forms of writing he does, he is especially enthusiastic about his books.
“I enjoy writing the books most of all because they flow right from my experiences, and I don’t depend on outside sources to get them done,” the author says.
Not only does Tom simply enjoy writing his books, they also bring no small contribution to his income. With an increasingly digital age affecting the way the public gets news, freelance journalists are finding it more difficult than ever to sell their articles to newspapers and magazines.
“I actually made much more money per article writing 20 years ago than I make now,” says Tom. “Writing books has helped level that out some for me.”
Tom says that his success with his books is due largely to the fact that he started his own publishing company, Spinning Sevens Press.
“That is one place where the new technology has helped me make more money.”
His books provide him with a more steady and reliable income, enabling him to better continue to pursue his passion for writing.
The Moates now have six horses in total, two of which are Tom’s: “Jubal the Wonder Horse” (Tigers T J), and “Festus the Bestest” (Cody Is A Barfly), as Tom affectionately calls them. The equines constantly provide Tom with ample content for his books. As Tom says of the horses, they are the “usual suspects for the ongoing memoirs of my misadventures!”
“That brings up one component of really good writing,” Tom says. “Namely being absolutely honest with your readers.”
For Tom, this means including all the wrecks, accidents and downright bad days, in addition to all the golden, sunshiny moments that come with horsemanship. Besides the horses, Tom gets writing inspiration from the clinics he attends and other horse people whom he sometimes helps with their horse problems, not to mention Harry Whitney himself.
America's Horse magazine is a members-only publication full of informative and entertaining articles for and about horsemen and -women. Read stories about people, like Tom, who impact those around them with the help of their American Quarter Horses.
Tom travels around the country to attend as many of Harry’s clinics as possible. Sometimes an auditor, sometimes a rider, he learns all he can, often sitting on the top rails of the round pen panels to get the best view.
“I take notes and lots of photos,” Tom says. “Ideas for the books just jump out of those experiences, and then I can’t help but run with them. The books seem to happen to me.”
Tom has been a full-time writer for seven years now. Though he writes for many different horse magazines, the majority of his contributions can be found in The American Quarter Horse Journal, America’s Horse and Eclectic-Horseman. He has won an award from American Horse Publications for an article he wrote for Equus magazine on the Olympic gold-medalist, David O’ Connor.
Tom is currently working on two books. One will be the fifth work in his “Journey into Honest Horsemanship” series, and the other will be an account of a two-week colt-starting clinic that Harry is conducting in February. Tom hopes to complete both books sometime early next year.
“Writing is not the kind of career a person should take on if they don’t absolutely love to write,” Tom says in advice to aspiring journalists. “God has different paths for each of us. But, if like me, you love it, then it is absolutely what you should pursue, because it is fulfilling in so many ways.”
Tom says that, “The single most important thing for aspiring writers … is simply to write! I’m dead serious when I say this, even though it sounds sort of silly. Most writers that fail, do so simply because they quit writing. Find a time every day, or at least most days of the week, every week, when you write. If you get stuck, write on through that. And don’t worry about rejections. Those always are part of it. If you send out an article, don’t wait to hear what an editor says before doing your next story – rather, send out three more while you’re waiting to hear back on the first one. In fact, write so much new stuff that you plumb forget about even sending that first one out. Then, if it’s accepted, you have a great surprise – Hooray! But if it is rejected, be so engrossed in your new projects that you really don’t even care except, perhaps, to brush it up and send it right back out somewhere else.”
So if you ever attend a Harry Whitney clinic in Virginia, you’ll most likely see Tom there, perched in his favorite position on the topmost rail of the round pen panels, soaking up the events playing out in the corral, some of which are likely to appear in his next book or article.
Tom’s books can be ordered through his website, www.TomMoates.com, or anywhere else books are sold. You can also find him on Facebook.
Olivia Wilkes is a 14-year-old from Alabama. She interviewed Tom Moates at a Floyd, Virginia, clinic with Harry Whitney as a journalism assignment for a homeschooling newspaper.