Two years ago, I had the pleasure of collaborating with journalist Elizabeth Kaye McCall on an article, “An Ode to Wild Horses”, for Calling All Horse Girls magazine. This month I had the chance to catch up with her to talk about her two books, her equine work, and her most recent projects.
Maria: Thank you so much for taking the time today to talk. I’m curious to learn about what you’ve been working on lately. But before we go there, can you tell us a little about how you got into writing and your background?
Elizabeth: I’ve always written. Long, handwritten letters to my grandmother when I was growing up. My mother saved a thank you note I wrote to Santa Claus when I was eight, saying how much I appreciated the encyclopedias I got for Christmas, especially because it had horses. I know… encyclopedias! That was life before laptops, Google, and Wikipedia. As far as my professional writing career, a friend in the entertainment business suggested I get press credentials to attend a video dealers convention in Las Vegas in the early 1990s. This was before the streaming era. I was doing PR at the time. The editor of Ride! magazine wrote a letter that got me in. I made some contacts there and browsed around, but didn’t find any horse films on video to write about. A few months later the editor called asking if I would cover a jumping competition at Los Angeles Equestrian Center. I was thrilled! That was my first assignment. Things took off from there.
Maria: Whether it is your books or your magazine features, your writing is mostly about horses. How did it come about that equines became the focus of your work?
Elizabeth: From my earliest memories, horses have captivated me. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, not on a ranch or in a horse family. My first ride was on a pony after church near the Ohio State University campus. While my opportunities to ride were limited until I went to horse camp as a teenager, I read every horse book I could find, collected horse models, and dreamed of a life with horses. When my art teacher banned any more horse drawings, I dropped the art class (that was 7th grade). I decided on Miami University for college the moment I saw the stables driving into Oxford, Ohio, the town where it’s located. After I graduated in sociology, I took to the skies as a flight attendant for United Airlines a week later—again, thanks to horses. The interviewer and I started talking about horses and the riding club at the college. I got a call for the job a few days later. While I was still with United, I started writing a newsletter for the hunter/jumper barn where I rode in Pacific Palisades (near Santa Monica, Calif.). After I changed careers and started freelance work, I initially focused on public relations. Then, a resort with horses in Mexico became a client. As I think back, that’s probably what opened the door. I loved the work I was doing in a way I’d not experienced before thanks to the equine element. It lit a fire inside me.
Maria: You have two books out now - The Tao of Horses, which is about how horses can transform the way we see the world, and Rajalika Speak, which is story about a horse that learns how to speak and, in doing so, finds redemption. I’ve seen first-hand the power that horses have to help us heal and to gain self-confidence. What was your inspiration for writing these books?
Elizabeth: The Tao of Horses literally landed in my lap. A writer’s group I got involved with while briefly living in Las Vegas, mentioned the annual BookExpo America coming to Los Angeles that year. I’d just moved back to California when it happened and made a point of going. The Los Angeles Convention Center was packed with booths of publishers at the event with books of every genre—ideal for pitching book proposals.
Except, I didn’t have one. The only story clip I’d even brought was an article I’d written for the Las Vegas Sun newspaper about Wayne Newton’s Arabians after meeting him and visiting his horses. But, back to the Book Expo. On the final day, I stopped by a number of mainstream publisher booths simply to see if any had horse titles in their book lineups. One of the last had a single title. I started talking with the publisher about the horse industry and left a copy of my Wayne Newton story. A few days later, the publisher contacted me. They were in the process of choosing an author to write a book for a title already planned called The Tao of Horses. I was asked to submit ideas and landed a contract almost immediately. I expanded the title to The Tao of Horses: How Horses Guide Us on Our Spiritual Path. It stuck.
Rajalika Speak was inspired by an Egyptian Arabian stallion that I owned for nearly 10 years. He was a remarkable individual and taught me to see the world of horses in ways I’d never considered before. He was a well-bred former halter horse who had lost all trust in people.
The connection I established with him was a day-by-day process. We had a breakthrough and this extraordinary horse began “speaking” when I asked. Verbally responding! A mentor said, “You need to write a book about that horse.” When I finally got to writing, it seemed the story needed to be written from a horse’s perspective. I opened my thoughts to some inspiration and imagination. Rajalika Speak was the result.
"Interviews are a discovery process that often amaze me with
the stories just waiting to be told."
Maria: So, in 2021 we collaborated on "An Ode To Wild Horses", an article for Calling All Horse Girls Magazine, about the Onaqui wild horses that had been rounded up and the experience of following and photographing them. That was an honor to work with you and the article was truly impactful. What have you been working on since then? Are there any upcoming books or articles in development?
Elizabeth: I continue to jump the media fence as both a PR consultant and a writer. For the second year in a row, I’ve helped promote BreyerFest. I’m also working on getting Breyer Horses a well-deserved spot in the National Toy Hall of Fame (think star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for toys). This past year, I’ve also worked with Florida-based Michael’s Foundation, a life-changing program for Veterans and their families.
My freelance writing includes recent contributions to EQLiving, Young Rider, and more. I always enjoy contributing to Cowboys & Indians, which I started writing for 20+ years ago. Yes, I’ve got a new book project in the works. I’ve been approached by a couple of people about co-writing books too. There’s a fictional project I back-burnered awhile ago that’s also resurfaced. I’m working on a screenplay for that.
Maria: I studied journalism in college, but ended up focusing more on photojournalism - the pictures, rather than the words. So, it is hard for me to get my head around how you write a book; it seems like an overwhelming process. How do you go about ideating, planning, and writing a book?
Elizabeth: Any kind of book, article, or writing project seems to develop individually for me. I’ve written hundreds, if not thousands, of story assignments. There is a certain rhythm, no matter what the focus. I’d say the starting point for anything begins with inspiration, noticing a thought that comes up. Maybe you’re walking, driving, shoveling manure, or doing something not digitally engaged, where there’s a space for creativity to emerge.
Still, I got a big surprise when I started writing The Tao of Horses. When I created the book proposal I had certain individuals in mind. Some, I’d interviewed before and thought, “They’d be great for this topic!” However, few interviews went as planned and I found myself flooded with content that did not fit the plan. At one point, I had a massive white board covered in Post-its to visually see what fit with each chapter’s focus.
For me, writing often finds its direction from a single comment or situation that happens almost organically, when least expected. There’s a clarity that comes with seeing something emerge.. like “there you are!” Then, the pieces come together. It just takes awhile to get there sometimes.
Writing assignments with specific word counts and reporting priorities are a different type of storytelling. The basics are the same, however. Word counts are hardest for me when I’ve got good interviews because leaving anything out can be tough.
I think the starting point for anyone wanting to write a book is why. I mostly write non-fiction. Interviews are a discovery process that often amaze me with the stories just waiting to be told. Some are more incredible than the best of fiction.
"Horses transcend language, culture, and politics."
Maria: You are also on the advisory board for the Wild Beauty Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on bringing the story of the American mustangs to the public and highlighting the healing power of horses. Can you tell us about that cause and the work the foundation is doing?
Elizabeth: I got acquainted with Ashley Avis, the Founder/President of the Wild Beauty Foundation (https://wildbeautyfoundation.org), when I was writing an article for Cowboys & Indians on her feature film Black Beauty that came out on Disney+. Ashley’s documentary film Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West premiered in Los Angeles in May and is making the rounds on the festival circuit and screening across the country, including Washington, DC in June and recently in Tampa, Florida, where Ashley also appeared on the ABC’s local morning show. Wild Beauty is available to stream on Amazon, iTunes, Spectrum, and other platforms. It’s a documentary that tells the wild horse story and as only a gifted filmmaker like Ashley could do. Not only did she produce, direct, and edit the film, you see her on camera over months on the road—and hear her. She did the voiceover.
Maria: Well, let’s wrap things up with a final question… what is your favorite non-equine hobby? What do you really like to do when your aren’t focused on horses?
Elizabeth: Honestly, most everything has a horse angle or connection, one way or another. Before the current Hollywood writers strike, I really enjoyed watching all the late night talk show hosts’ opening monologues, to see their different takes on the news of the day or what strange news item caught their attention. Monologues are a special genre of storytelling. I’m not sure that’s a hobby, but I got intrigued specifically with the late night monologues during Covid, especially when hosts Zoomed from home. Pretty creative!
I do enjoy live music, generally not big concert venues. Smaller casual club type settings where you might hear talent from all parts of the globe.
In truth, I am truly happiest focused on horses and being in that world as much as I can. I love the time I’ve lived on the same property as my horse and can interact throughout the day. Great way to take writing breaks or refocus on just being present. That’s not the case right now. My 4-year-old Arabian is boarded and is happy being in pasture. The day never seems complete until I spend time with him. If I’m traveling, I really feel like I’m missing something.
A final thought. Thirty years ago, I wrote the words, “Horses transcend language,
culture, and politics.” That’s even more true to me today.
Maria: Thank you again, Elizabeth, for taking the time to talk today - and for your work in bringing awareness to the American mustangs. I also really appreciate the emphasis you put on the ways our relationships with horses promote human well-being and healing. Visit Elizabeth's site at https://www.elizabethkayemccall.com/ .