“Our lives as horsepeople are exciting and sorrowful and wonderful and tragic on a daily basis, and I want to write about that.” — Natalie Keller Reinert

The Head and Not the Heart by Natalie Keller Reinert

Natalie Keller Reinert is the author of the novella The Head and Not The Heart, a story about a young woman who experiences loss and romantic confusion in the horse world. The heroine, Alex, lives and works on a Thoroughbred breeding and training farm in Florida with her boyfriend, Alexander, who’s a respected race trainer. After losing two young horses that were dear to both of them, Alex begins to question her involvement in the business and her relationship with Alexander. Alex takes a trip to New York City to check out a new horse and finds much more than she expected.
Natalie took a moment away from writing about OTTBs and working with horses in Central Park for the NYC Parks Department (what a job!) to answer a few questions about her first book.
                                                      — Kristin Berkery

Lava Man at Del Mar Racetrack in 2006. Photo by Matt Brockmeyer

What personality traits do you have in common with Alex? How are you different?
Alex and I are both dreamers. Dreamers that pursue their dreams relentlessly… but keep dreaming new dreams all the time. And never forget their old ones. Getting pulled in multiple directions: that’s our biggest problem. I’m a city girl with a country passion; that’s hard to reconcile.

How are Alex and I different? She’s braver than I am. She sees an opportunity and takes it, even if no one has her back. I need support to do scary things, like gallop racehorses or wander the streets late at night looking for fun… or write books. She’d rather have someone in her corner, of course, but she takes what she can get.

Have you lost a special horse that lead you to think about leaving horses? What were the circumstances?
I’ve lost horses… I lost my very first horse when I was a kid, in fact. That never stopped me from being involved in horses. I’m soured on the business of selling horses, though. My husband and I were involved in breeding for a brief period of time, and I’ll never do that again. If I ever own another horse, it will be for pleasure and it will be for life.

Did you based Alex’s trip to New York on a trip you took in real life? Did you follow strangers to a party in an unfamiliar place?
Absolutely not! Are you crazy? Following strangers around in the dark? Going into warehouses on dark industrial streets?

The fact is, every location that Alex visits is a place that I know intimately. I was an Ocala horsewoman. I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and would hover outside the door of Claremont Riding Academy, peeping at the riding lessons inside. I was an exercise rider at Aqueduct racetrack. I live in Brooklyn now, and I set the party you mentioned at a local music venue. The teddy bear trophy is real and alarming, as is the rickety indoor terrace, but I left out the truly frightening part of that place, and that is the restroom. My writing chops just aren’t up to writing horror yet.

Horse and exercise rider at the Mahalaxmi Race Course in India.
Photo by Rudolph Furtado

Can we look forward to more stories about Alex?
Yes, down the line there will be more stories about Alex, because people seem to like her, and they’ve asked for more! The problem with writing about the same characters is that I have to do a lot of hand-wringing about whether or not that’s something the character would actually do, and I have to be sure that I don’t end up making them into Alex and Alexander, Crime-Fighting Duo, or something like that, for lack of a real and heart-felt subject to study through Alex’s eyes. The Head and Not The Heart isn’t a mystery or a thriller or anything in a genre like that which typically make up a series of books: it’s a novel about an emotional journey, and those aren’t the subjects of sequels because really, how many roller-coaster emotional journeys can I put one person through? I don’t want to write “Alex’s Mid-Life Crisis” after I just wrote about her quarter-life crisis.

Collonges Thoroughbred horse

Neptune Collonges, Grand National winner, in the 2012 Champions Parade at Sandown Park near London, England. Photo by Kate

But on the other hand, real horse-people, horsemen and women who love horses and struggle to live with them in a difficult industry, are ignored by publishing. If the characters are over the age of 13 (and they rarely are) then they are almost always cast as crime-fighters (see above: what I won’t do!) lost in a sea of drugs smuggled in polo mallets and dead bodies found in horse trailers.

I have never, ever met a crime-fighting horse trainer. I have never been invited to help an undercover policeman solve a crime because of my equestrian expertise. And I think that’s probably true of most horse-people. And yet our lives are exciting and sorrowful and wonderful and tragic on a daily basis. I want to write about that. I want to write about horse-people for horse-people. And so if people find Alex relatable, I’m going to keep writing about her. But it’s going to take time to develop her stories.