Riders Up!

- by Jan Scarbrough

Every week after my horseback riding lesson I go home tired, but it’s a good tired. My hands on the steering wheel smell like horse. My knit shirt is smudged with dirt and coarse brown hairs cling to it. My feet sweat in my boots. But I don’t care.

For thirty minutes I’ve concentrated on making a thousand pound horse walk, trot and canter, and sometimes slow gait and rack around an indoor arena. I focus on myself and improving my riding skills. The work day’s stress evaporates as soon as I use the mounting block to climb aboard the saddle.

There are many challenging lesson horses at my stable: Marty-the tough bay gelding with the Type A personality who makes things harder than they should be; Belle-the delicate mare with the choppy slow gait who hates other horses; or Val-the beautiful, grand dame who is steady and dependable.

I’ve been taking lessons as an adult since 1985. I ride American Saddlebreds, the horses the Confederate cavalry rode into battle during the Civil War. Robert E. Lee’s horse Traveler was a Saddlebred.


I started writing romance in 1990. Life intervened often, as you might guess. My children graduated high school and college. They got married. I became a grandmother. My parents died. I remarried. Throughout the years, I’ve plugged away at writing just as I’ve plugged away at horseback riding.

You’d think I’d know how to ride after over twenty years of weekly lessons. My left ankle is weaker than the right. For some reason, I don’t put my weight in the left stirrup like I should. My elbows are not steady enough at the canter and sometimes my whole upper body becomes a wet noodle, according to my riding instructor.

Hey, I do pretty well for a woman my age.

But I want to do better. I want to be like my fantasy self-riding a black stallion across a hard-packed stretch of sandy beach, wind blowing the horse’s mane in my face and whipping my long hair behind me. Er. I told you it was fantasy.

I am getting better. I hear it in my instructor’s voice. “Good job, Jan. Much better.”

You see, with practice might not come perfection, but practice will bring improvement. It’s the same thing with writing. I don’t do it as well as I’d like. Each new book is the same kind of challenge as riding a spirited Saddlebred. With each book, just like each riding lesson, I learn something new.

I may never make the New York Times Bestseller list or ride in a World’s Grand Championship, but I don’t care. I want to ride the best I can every Tuesday at my lesson, and with every book, I want to write as well as I can.

For me it’s not praise from my riding instructor, a fan letter or a good review that I want. It’s the self-satisfaction of a job well done.


  1. Jan, I’ve followed along on a lot of your journey over the years, both writing and riding. Our paths have been similar (except for the horse…I still only think about that once in a while now after my disastrous trail ride experience–but hey, I got a book out of that!). Your perseverance is incredible and with that, you’ll go far. Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Jan: Wonderful post. I too am a rider, and writer, and therefore relate so well to both aspects of your post.

    There’s the up and down, but as writers, we always get back “into the saddle” and keep perservering, making each bit of writing the best we can possibly do. Best of luck. Elaine

  3. Jan,

    What a wonderful connection between riding and writing. Thanks for the insight. I think all the process is never-ending. We can ALWAYS be better at our craft. Thanks for the reminder!


  4. Jan,

    Lovely post. You are a testament to perseverence and you’ve long been an inspiration to me. The learning process is neverending and I’ve always admired your can-do spirit in both riding and writing.

  5. Jan, thanks for another great blog. You’re always so insightful! I’m glad you posted this picture, too, which I’ve long admired. You’re an inspiration!

  6. Wow Jan! I didn’t know you could ride. It is freeing, isn’t it. I haven’t been in awhile but I should. My sister is a Vet for large animals and she is trying to get me back on a horse again. Great post. What a terrific comparison.

  7. Jan, unlike the others, I’ve tried riding and it freaked me out! I took a week long riding vacation on Arabian horses that leapt and did all sorts of things I didn’t want to do! Not my cup of tea! I guess I don’t find it anything like riding, although I can appreciate your experience and your blogging about that. I found writing to be a natural expression for me, the flow easy and no fear. Whereas with horses, Eek! I do see that practice is the thing though -having only been writing for six years, there’s so much more to learn and keep learning. In that respect, I can see the analogy – good blog – interesting ideas –
    lynn romaine
    coming soon Long Run Home 09/09 through The Wild Rose Press

  8. So well said, Jan. You remind me to stick my nose in my gelding’s coat this evening when I go to feed. And that things change. I rode for many years, now I am selling my gelding and turning to other pursuits. I am, though, the same woman seeking to learn and grow and experience life.

  9. Jan, Thanks for the great post. I love how writing can fit into the everyday things we experience and enjoy!

  10. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I’ve gotten to know some of you off line who weren’t already friends. Elaine, I didn’t know you ride horses!

  11. Jan:
    I agree with you. I want to do the best writing I can. But it’s really nice when someone emails you and tells you they absolutely loved your book. It doesn’t hurt.

    I’d love to learn to ride. I envy you the opportunity.
    Teresa Reasor

  12. Maggie Toussant — both of your messages ended up in the spam que and I thought I caught them and put them here but apparently not. So sorry. Try again.