Today we're talking with Kim Chatel, author of Horse Camp
FQ: Do you have a horse of your own? Iím guessing you either have a horse or have had some involvement with equines as your horse background shows up in the book, the topics you cover, and your obvious love of animals.
I have a deep love for all animals though Iíve never had my own horse. When my daughter, Genevieve, was six, I thought it would be a fun mother-daughter activity to learn horseback riding together. We took a few lessons and then I broke my foot (not riding). I was unable to ride for nearly two years. She continued her lessons and now, at age 12, she is quite an accomplished rider. Thatís her on the cover of Horse Camp. We do hope to get a horse of our own in the near future. In the mean time, she continues her lessons at Rocking Horse Stables. We also volunteer at The Gress Mountain Ranch, a local animal rescue. They have 1 horse and 3 ponies. So we get to work with them often. I just love being around horses. I love the smell of them. I love brushing them and picking out their feet. At The Gress Mountain Ranch, we have an old draft horse, Elle, who has trouble walking. I like to sing to her as we make the nightly journey across the pasture to the barn. And when she looks at me with her soft brown eyes and wuffles into my hand, I feel good all the way to my toes.
FQ: What was the impetus for writing Horse Camp? Did you attend a camp as a youngster, have friends with children who were about to head off to camp or was it something else?
Horses were never part of my experience as a child. Only as an adult did I discover that I have an affinity for them. Genevieve does too. She attended horse camp twice. Iíve always been a photographer (I used to own and run a camera store in Canada) so it was natural for me to take my camera and follow the girls at horse camp. Barns are incredibly photographic. And so are horses. As I was photographing them, I realized that these images would make a great picture book. Iíd never seen a book like the one I envisioned. Most books about horses deal with only the facts. I wanted to capture the joy that blossoms between kids and horses. I was lucky enough to have some help with the technical issues about horses from some very knowledgeable people, mainly Shannon Ebert from Rocking Horse Stables and Tara St. Clair. I learned a lot writing the book too.
I also worked with Lynda Burch at Guardian Angel Publishing to bring my vision to life. She let me create the layout for the book interior, something that many publishers wouldnít allow. Iím very happy with the way it turned out.
FQ: You were also the photographer for Horse Camp and visited two farms, Rocking Horse Stables and Last Chance Ranch to get your shots. How long did it take to get all the right pictures? Did you know exactly what you were looking for before you arrived at each place or did you just go and see what happened/what the horses and kids did?
Well, since the idea came to me while I was photographing, I looked over the images I had and created a layout for the book. Shannon Ebert at Rocking Horse was kind enough to let me shadow the girls at horse camp. I shot hundreds of photos. After fitting those into my layout, I realized I was still missing some images. So I went back a third time and took a few specific shots. These were mostly to fill in the missing coat colors or leg markings. Finally, I visited Last Chance Ranch for some of the more unusual pictures like the mule and the miniature horses. The whole process took over a year. Then I had to build the layout with all the design elements. Finally it had to be proofed and published. The whole process took over two years. Itís fun to look back at the girls in the book and see how theyíve grown.
FQ: What was the reaction of the young students who are featured in your book when they learned you wanted to take pictures of them for Horse Camp? Excited, nervous, interested in seeing the finished book?
Most of the girls were kind of shy. I tried to stay out of the way so they would act naturally. Because it took so long for the book to appear in print, I think the girls forgot about it. I was very excited to show them the final product and see their delighted faces. The best part was when I did a presentation at a local school and two of the girls in Horse Camp were in the audience. I made sure to thank them publicly. I think they enjoyed that. I enjoyed creating Horse Camp from inception to completion, but thereís nothing better than sharing your book with a room full of kids.
FQ: Thereís no doubt that many, many youngsters, especially girls, love horses. What do you think is the attraction? Why is there such a strong interest in horses?
I thinks girls and horses are like boys and dirt bikes or race cars. Cantering on a horse feels like flying. But unlike a machine, a horse is sentient. So not only do girls get to fulfill their need for speed, they also get a friend. And what girl doesnít like to cuddle? Getting nuzzled by your favorite equine is like nothing else. Not to mention that horses let you braid their hair and paint their nails. What more could a girl want? The first time my daughter cantered in the pasture, her smile was as big as the sky. She rode up to me and said, ďThis is the best day of my life!Ē I donít think either of us will ever forget that day.
FQ: I understand that 50% of your royalties are being donated to The Gress Mountain Ranch. Would you tell our readers about the ranch and also why you selected them as the recipient of the funds?
The Gress Mountain Ranch is a special place. Itís a forever home for over 40 animals: horses, donkeys, goats, alpacas, pigs, cats, dogs and more. The animals are all rescued from abuse or neglect. Some of the have been surrendered due to the tough economy. At TGMR they become therapy animals for people with emotional and psychiatric disabilities. Genevieve and I volunteer at the ranch several times a week. We have developed special bonds with many of the animals there and we see all the good work this place can do. The ranch survives only on donations, so it was natural for me to want to help out. I think Horse Camp is a good venue for fundraising. Parents can feel good about buying a book that their kids will enjoy and know that their money is helping a great cause.
FQ: I see that you are also a fiber artist (great examples of your work on your website). Would you tell us a bit about your work?
I illustrated my first picture book Rainbow Sheep with fiber art. Each image in the book is like a wool painting that I photographed. The back of the book teaches kids at parents the art of needle-felting. About 8 years ago, I saw the relatively obscure craft on a TV show and I took to it immediately. I soon discovered that I can make anything out of wool. In recent years, the craft has grown in popularity and Iíve had great fun teaching needle-felting to both children and adults. Now I make ornaments from fleece sheared from The Gress Mountain Ranch alpacas. Iíve been teaching other volunteers at TMGR too and weíre using this art as another fundraiser. We have a store on Etsy at: www.etsy.com/shop/GressMountainRanch
Thank you for letting me share my book Horse Camp and experiences with your readers. If anyone would like to learn more about my books they can visit KimChatel.com. If theyíd like to learn about The Gress Mountain Ranch they can visit GressMountainRanch.com.