Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Horses in the Blood: feature on Lindy Kelly

Horses in the Blood

  • Previously, Kelly wrote short stories, radio and stage scripts, and childrens books
  • Equestrian Rider of the Century Mark Todd CBE loved this murder mystery
  • Every young rider's worst nightmare scuppered Kelly's riding career


Former Kiwi event rider Lindy Kelly has set her debut thriller in the world of New Zealand eventing, as Craig Sisterson discovers. Originally published in print in New Zealand Horse & Pony magazine

Lindy Kelly loves horses. When she speaks, her passion bubbles to the surface; whether it’s childhood remembrances of Matangi Pony Club, bittersweet recollections of flying over ditches and hedges on her beloved Passport, or musing on the almost-spiritual connection between horses and humans – there’s no doubt horses are in Lindy Kelly’s blood.

And when Lindy writes about horses, as she does in her first adult suspense novel Bold Blood (released by HarperCollins in February 2009), that passion bleeds from every page. To Lindy, horses aren’t mere props in her novel of murder and mystery; they’re full-blown characters with personalities in their own right.

 “On Lad I’d felt if I was on something rock-solid and safe. On Jingo I had to be constantly on the alert for anything that might spook her and anticipate it, putting her on the bit, coaxing her and sometimes bullying her past it. Her eyes seemed to shoot out on stalks when she saw the water combination, as if she’d never seen anything like it in her life and moreover she’d heard there were crocodiles in these parts.” (Bold Blood, p127)

Having published more than 100 short stories, sixteen children’s books, dozens of feature articles, 36 poems, and had her writing feature on National Radio and be performed on stage, Lindy had one goal for her first adult thriller. “I wanted to write the sort of book that I like to curl up with for sheer pleasure,” she says, “you know, something with excitement and adventure, a bit of danger, likable strong characters, animals, good plot, a few mysteries, a bit of romance, humour, and passion.”

And what better setting for her suspense-filled mystery, than the eventing world Lindy had loved since she was a little girl? “There’s a shortage of books written in the rural setting, and I’ve never read a book that’s been written in the eventing world, so I thought there was a real gap there,” she says.

Out of active competition now, Lindy bolstered her engrained knowledge by travelling nationwide to events, updating herself on new rules, interviewing riders, and discussing the latest theories. She noticed “a lot of people waiting for a good horsey thriller to come out”. For a final check on the accuracy of her richly drawn setting, she sent the manuscript to legendary event rider Mark Todd, CBE. Todd enjoyed it so much, he penned a forward for the book, noting Lindy had “managed to weave a fascinating story, set against the wonderful backdrop of New Zealand eventing… a thoroughly enjoyable read”.

Lindy first crossed paths with the man who’d become the International Equestrian Foundation’s Rider of the 20th Century when she was a horse-mad Waikato teen in the 1960s. “He was such a gutsy rider,” she says, “quite fearless over cross-country”.

Todd, for his part, remembers admiring slightly-older Lindy. “[She] was already an established rider who competed in horse trials on her stunning big back gelding Passport; I was the pony-crazed kid who watched in awe.”

Lindy grew up on a farm outside of Hamilton, an animal-lover from birth. “I was a horse-mad little girl,” she says, noting she collected horse books “ad nauseum”, doodled ponies on her schoolbooks, and “lived and breathed” horses.

“It’s often said horses are in your blood, or they’re not. And they’re obviously in my blood. My mother had ridden. And you know I had aunts, great-aunts, and uncles and cousins who were horse people.” Lindy’s great uncle was Dr MacGregor Grant, legendary stalwart of the Auckland and New Zealand racing scenes.

Lindy still recalls her very first pony, Titch, and riding a horse named Trigger at Matangi Pony Club fifty years ago. Unperturbed by a bad fall at age ten, Lindy worked hard “looking after children next door and mowing lawns and things” to convince her protective father to buy another horse. “I set off again, really determined … I belonged to Pony Club, got lots of instruction, went to courses and things.”

Lindy travelled to Rotorua during school holidays to camp in the back of a truck at the New Zealand Equestrian Centre. “It was owned and run by a lovely couple of women called Miss Knox-Thompson and Miss Dickens - they went on to write Pony Club manuals – they were real characters, and marvellous instructors.”

Lindy became a championship-calibre rider on her white-stockinged, black thoroughbred Passport, the horse that gave her the best moments she’s ever had in a saddle. “He used to jump like a bird,” she remembers, wistfully.

“It literally would feel like you were flying. He had the most enormous leap in him. He never refused any jump. And you could just travel across country with him, jumping hedges and ditches, fences and logs – nothing would stop him. And it was just this most amazing feeling of freedom; you were flying, flying through the air on this most magnificent creature… fantastic.”

Lindy and Passport were on the cusp of heading overseas with Todd and others to compete in the United States, when tragedy struck. The 1971 New Zealand Horse Trials: torrential rain, a dangerous course, a slip after a big drop jump, a broken leg - Lindy endured every rider’s worst nightmare - Passport had to be destroyed. Lindy lost the horse she’d built an almost telepathic bond with. “I only had to think something and he would do it,” she says.

Lindy agrees with the theory that horses and riders together long-term become so attuned they almost operate as one. “You become the brains of the outfit, and they’re the brawn,” she says.

“They get to do things they’d never dream up themselves, and they love it. They just can’t wait to get out there, be ridden and go places… In return they’re giving you this powerful, magnificent body that gives you the most marvellous experiences you’d never be able to have with your own puny little body.”

Eventing has always thrilled Lindy. “It extends you in every way, it’s a true test of horse and rider,” she says, noting the sport originated as a military exercise designed as the ultimate test for horse and rider, from obedience and precision (dressage), to jumping ability, to endurance.

Following Passport’s death, Lindy eventually went overseas, having passed her Pony Club “A” Certificate. With no horse to compete on, she focused on working in the industry. She stayed with international rider Jenny Harries in Hawaii, absorbing the art of endurance riding and attending dressage clinics taken by Michael Podhajsky, son of the famous head of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Alois Podhajsky.

Shifting to Europe, Lindy studied at Institut Von Neindorff in Germany, and as an instructor at an English riding school, before securing a job at a huge 3-day Eventing Centre near Calgary. “I was breaking in and training young horses – thoroughbreds, Cleveland Bays, Hanoverians and quarter horses,” she says. “I travelled across Canada to various one and three days events.”

On her return home, she “taught riding for some time, then married a farmer and settled down”. They moved to Nelson, eventually buying a 400-acre farm. Over the years they combined having a family with a variety of endeavours, including breeding “stud sheep, angora goats, thoroughbred horses and Jack Russell dogs all at different times”. It’s a life animal-loving Lindy adores.

When Todd gold-medalled at Los Angeles and Seoul, Lindy watched with pride, and no sense of regret. “It was an absolute thrill,” she says. “By that stage I was a mother … it was like the next best thing to doing it yourself.”

Motherhood sparked Lindy’s writing career; she began penning stories her children would enjoy, often peppering the tales with animals. Years later, with hundreds of publishing credits under her belt, Lindy is still entwining her love of animals, especially horses, into her writing.

Her latest, Bold Blood, is a classic crime thriller, but with horses front and centre. In the book, a suspicious fall, a coma and a phone call destroy Dr Caitlin Summerfield’s big-city reverie. She reluctantly returns ‘home’ and ends up playing caretaker for her estranged but now-stricken mother’s horse farm. Helped by rugged eventer Dom and feisty teenage groom Kasey, Caitlin scratches beneath the surface of high-tech horse-trailers and well-fed thoroughbreds to discover looming financial ruin, and a shot at a million-dollar breeding contract. A contract someone is willing to do anything for, even kill.

From her early days at Pony Club, to studying overseas then returning to train, breed, and eventually write about, horses, it’s clear the equine passion of Lindy’s forbears flows through her veins. And like any legacy, she’s passed it on; her daughter, son-and-law and family left Auckland and joined Lindy on the family farm, where they now breed horses at their stud “Drummossie Warmbloods”. Now a new generation of children are learning to ride.

What else would you expect? Loving horses is in the blood.


This article was originally published in print in the April 2009 issue of New Zealand Horse & Pony magazine but has never been available online until now. 

This was also the first 'crime author' feature I ever wrote for any publication, and I've since gone on to write for several newspapers and magazines, in New Zealand and overseas, about crime fiction and crime writers. 

I will be publishing several of my author interview print features written in 2009-2012 online here in future. 


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