Here is a photo of the Author, Bonnie Hodge, with her cherished Rocky stallion, The Comet.
The following is an article written for print in the Summer Issue of the 25th Anniversary year of the RMHA Magazine. This article was written by Bonnie Hodge, specifically at the request of the RMHA, to tell the story of her journey in researching, composing, and publishing the book, "Rocky Mountain Horses".
“Creating From The Heart”
By Bonnie Hodge
Creating a book is like creating life itself. There are thrills and excitement at the notion of the end result, sweat and tears during the manual labor of nurturing ideas, collecting, organizing, and documenting them, and emotional pains of waiting for the final moment of publication. It is “your baby” from conception to the day when it is presented to the world. Your heart and soul are infused in it, and the feeling of satisfaction upon its completion is like no other.
The subject of a book is usually one that is dearest to the heart of the author. Dearest to my heart are my Rocky Mountain Horses. In my mind, there is no better subject to write about. Although writing a book was never at the top of my “to do” list for lifetime accomplishments, my introduction to Rockies during my retirement years led me down a path that resulted in such a deed.
I grew up in a family that nurtured a love of all animals. Of the many pets we had, horses were always at the top of my favorites list. When I was young, I participated in 4-H, trail riding, and showing. As the years passed, I got married, raised a son, and after 30 years at my full-time job, I retired and moved to the Ozark Mountains with my husband. During all those years, there was never a time when I was without a horse to love and ride. I have owned and ridden horses of many different breeds, gaited and non-gaited. However, of all the horses I have known, only my Rocky Mountain Horses made me feel that they actually cared about me as much as I did them.
The motivation to write a book came about after several events transpired in my life. First and foremost was the love of the breed that was felt after acquiring my first Rocky Mountain Horse. Being a novice enthusiast with a thirst for knowledge of Rocky Mountain Horses, I began to search for a book about the breed and soon realized there were none to be found. It seemed to me this breed really deserved a book written about it, and there was definitely a need for a book for newcomers to the breed. As time went on, I managed to accumulate more and more information on the breed through extensive research. All along, I felt strongly that someone should write a book about Rockies, and since no one else wanted to take on the task, it became evident that “that someone” would have to be me.
Another event that encouraged me to write was a television program I happened to watch about a woman in England who realized the need for a book about a fairly new breed of pony. Since no one else had done it, she decided to take on the project, and her book became a best seller. It was then that the whole idea of writing a book became appealing to me. I not only realized the need for the book, but I had found the desire and confidence to write it myself. I knew that once committed, I could draw upon my talents and resources to succeed in this endeavor. After all, I knew first-hand what novice enthusiasts would want and need to know about Rockies.
Being retired from my job meant I had the time to dedicate to writing a book, but it took one more incident to actually get me started on the project. In July of 2001, I suffered from a foot injury and was not able to walk or put on a shoe for six weeks. Since I was more or less “grounded", this turned out to be the most opportune time to sit at the computer and commence writing, so I did.
The research work over the next four years involved taking more than a dozen trips to places like Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and N. Carolina. My work was interesting, but it entailed long, fifteen-hour days. I drove over two hundred miles each day through the hills of Eastern Kentucky alone. All the while, I was operating on a shoestring budget because being a free lance writer means having no source of up-front money for expenses. And yet, the largest expense loomed ahead with the cost of editing, design, and printing.
Besides searching out and acquiring stacks upon stacks of written material and photos, I relentlessly pursued the task of interviewing everyone and anyone from all over the United States who would talk to me about Rockies. Interviewing was extensive, and it required perseverance, patience, and diplomacy. The volume of work was overwhelming, especially for the historical chapter entitled “Interviews, Folklore, and Legends”. The taped interviews for this chapter alone involved almost fifty (90-minute) cassette tapes. After I compiled the tapes, there was the tedious and time-consuming job of playing back hours of conversations, transcribing information onto paper, organizing it, and then composing a story out of it. The importance of documenting real life stories before they were lost forever was the driving force for me to continue on, no matter what.
During the years it took to produce the book, I met some of the most amicable and interesting people of my lifetime. Sadly, some of them are deceased now, like Al Prewitt, Carson Masters, Bill Wise, Charlie Kilburn, Jim Sewell, and Jr. Robinson. Yet, their words and photos live on in my book for future generations to enjoy. Other people, whom I met through writing the book, are currently my cherished friends. There is nothing like owning a Rocky Mountain Horse to meet new friends.
I have heard innumerous fascinating stories over the years of how Rocky Mountain Horses played an important role in the lives of the Eastern Kentucky people of days gone by. The culture of the people involved in the early establishment of the breed was so different from what I was accustomed to, and learning about their culture was quite enlightening.
It was not just the information and stories these people told that amazed me. The thing I remember most was the special way in which they told the stories. Each of them had their own quaint accents, mannerisms, accentuation, and story-telling abilities that were beyond replication in the words of a book.
Of all the people who touched my heart, I was most amused during my time spent with Jack Hinds, of Irvine, KY. His father was the owner of the stallion at Calloway Creek who sired Sam Tuttle’s TOBE. To say Jack was “quite a character” would be an understatement. His stories about Rocky Mountain Horses, and their owners of the early 1920s and 1930s, literally captivated me. Listening to him was reminiscent of sitting on my grandpa’s knee as a child while he told the most intriguing stories of yesteryear.
During my visits, Jack recalled a few past experiences that were meaningful to him even though some of the dates, times, names, and the like, were forgotten. The small bits of information and stories he told illustrated the life and times of the Kentucky people who owned Rocky Mountain Horses. The forthcoming excerpt from Jack’s interview in my book gives the reader the opportunity to glimpse into the past through folklore. The majority of details are related as if readers were visiting Jack themselves.
Jack Hinds was raised in the rural area of Calloway Creek and lived there all his life. His early years were spent farming, as his father did. He then worked as a taxi cab driver in Irvine for thirty-six years. Although he was seventy-five years old at the time of his interview, Jack was still spry enough to go for several walks each day. It was amazing Jack made it through his childhood to live to that age. His arm had been broken nine times over the years, and his back was broken once in an automobile accident. When he was only five years old, he ran into the street in front of his house and was struck by a car.
When he was seven years old, he was bitten on the knuckle of his finger by a copperhead snake and almost died. Jack said, “As soon as it happened my daddy came through the lot out there. My mama always kept a bunch of them fryin’ chickens in the yard. So my daddy picked up one of them chickens and cut it open, and stuck my hand in it, and the feathers of that chicken turned green as that grass right there. After Doc Wallace got here, he told daddy, 'That chicken just saved his (Jack’s) life!' When the Doc was startin’ to leave he said, 'Let me have that chicken. Some folks won’t believe me if I don’t show ‘um. So I want ‘em to see it.” After the doctor left, Jack became deathly sick, his whole arm became red and swollen, his finger turned black and eventually rotted off completely. This story was quite “colorful” to say the least, and I was bestowed the privilege of viewing Jack’s numerous scars.
Jack Hinds remembered the time he spent “bootlegging” some homemade brew from the basement of his house and claimed he made enough over the years to “sink a battleship”. On a later visit to Jack's house, he offered me some of his homemade moonshine brewed from corn several years earlier. It was about 110 proof, and just the aroma from sniffing the jar was enough to make me lightheaded.
As my visit with Jack Hinds came to an end, he left me with one last “tale” of wisdom by saying, “Did ya know that if ya cut off a hog’s tail when it’s small, it’ll save ya a barrel of corn?” I waited patiently to hear his explanation, which followed as: “It takes a barrel of corn to fatten a hog’s tail, so if ya cut it off, they won’t eat as much!”
Because I found the history of the Rocky Mountain Horse to be such an interesting subject, I volunteered to work on the RMHA History Committee. At that time, I gathered a special collection of historical documents and memorabilia, in order to provide future generations of Rocky Mountain Horse owners a window into the past to view, enjoy, and reminisce about years gone by.
From the time I began composing the book, until the time of its completion, I experienced the most devastating years of my life on a personal level. After my mother passed away, one of my prized stallions died, and my beloved husband of thirty-three years passed away. I would never have been able to continue my work on the book through these difficult and most tragic years of my life without a strong, underlying, heart’s desire to honor the breed and help novice enthusiasts. It was not enough to tell myself that I could do it, I had to really want to do it, and I did.