“In the Heart of a Mustang” is the winner of the Gold Medal from the Literary Classics Awards, the Silver Medal from the Nautilus Awards, The Silver Medal from the Readers’ Favorite Awards and the Winnie Award from the Equus Film Festival.
“In the Heart of a Mustang” is one of the finest books ever written for teens and pre-teens.” Literary Classics.
A boy is told that his father was a brave and virtuous man, a soldier who traded his life to save the lives of countless others. He was the man that Hunter needed to emulate. The only problem is the whole story is a lie, all of it. The truth, which Hunter discovers as he begins his sophomore year of high school, is that his father has actually spent the boy’s entire life in jail, paying his debt to society, but not mending his ways.
A wild mustang mare, is rounded up by the BLM. The spring rains had been sparse, the forage on the plains even more so. The mare and her herd are rescued from certain starvation and placed for adoption. In a sandy corral at Promise Ranch, a home for troubled teenage boys, the boy and the mare meet. A weathered, old cowboy brings them together – a mentor for one, a trainer for the other.
The bond that forms between boy and horse becomes one that saves the lives of both.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I spent a few years working for PATH, Intl. – The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. While there I was touched by the healing power of horses, both with disabled children and adults and with "at-risk youth." When I saw the difference horses made in the lives of those struggling, hurting teens, I knew I had to write this book. I coupled that with my interest in the wild mustang bands in the west and came up with "In the Heart of a Mustang."
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Hunter is a teenager who has been deeply hurt and acts out as a result of that pain. Sally is a wild mustang who has lost her foal and is saved from starvation on the plains through the BLM adoption program. The two meet and bond because they need each other.
The sounds of men shouting and horses neighing reached his ears and Hunter realized that was what had awakened him. He stopped pounding his fist, turned his head and looked over at Julius’s bed. It was empty, the covers hastily thrown over the pillow. The cowboy hat was gone from its perch on the bedpost. His eyes rested for a moment on the fish tank, watching the fish swim back and forth, back and forth. As he watched, he listened to the sounds coming from somewhere outside. Whoops and hollers from men continued as they mixed with whinnies and neighs from horses.
Hunter threw back the handmade quilt and swung his feet out of the bed. He stood up and stretched. The bed was not the best he had ever been in but, if forced, he’d have to admit it wasn’t all that bad either. He hurried over to the door, opened it and stepped out on the wooden porch that extended across the front of his cabin. The shouts and neighs that first awakened him were still filling the air, and Hunter could see a cloud of peach-colored dust rising up from the end of the row of cabins…from where the barn and horse pens were located. Curious, Hunter returned to the cabin and dressed quickly.
Hurrying out of the cabin, he let the screen door bang loudly behind him. He walked quickly toward the sounds and the dust. When he rounded the last cabin, he stopped. Ahead of him he immediately recognized his roommate, Julius, mounted on a small brown and white paint horse. The tall, lanky boy’s legs hung well past the horse’s barrel. Julius’s cowboy hat shaded the dark skin of the boy’s face as he swung a rope over his head in an attempt to herd a band of a dozen other horses.
Another rider was helping Julius but this was a much older man. From what Hunter could see through the dust cloud, this man must have been in his forties or fifties. The skin of his face looked like tanned leather and was lined with wrinkles. The cracks and crevasses on his well-worn skin did nothing to conceal the sparkle in his eyes, however. He was slim in build but Hunter could see that, beneath his plaid, cotton shirt, his arms were bulging with muscles. He spoke softly to Julius, giving him instructions. The man’s name was Charlie Perkins but everyone called him “Smokey.” His friends described him as a man who was hard headed and soft hearted. His soft heart was most often revealed when he worked with animals and kids.
“Move to the left and cut off that one big brown mare….good. Now, swing your rope over your head and move the whole herd around the pen away from the gate.”
This went on for several minutes while a long, gray horse trailer was pulled away, and a man, or boy, Hunter couldn’t tell which, quickly shut the gate to the circular paddock.
“Great work, Julius. Let’s get them some food and water then head to the lodge for Betsy’s breakfast.”
As Julius and the cowboy dismounted, the herd moved to the far side of the corral…as far away from these men and their sold-out horses as they could get. Hunter walked quietly to the fence where he could be close to the herd. He stepped up on the bottom rail and leaned forward over the top.
One small dun-colored mare with a thick black mane turned her entire body toward him. The mare’s eyes held him spellbound for more than a minute. As Hunter looked into the large, warm, brown eyes, it seemed as though she was sending him a distinct message: “I know you. I know you down to the core.” Hunter closed his eyes. When he opened them, the mare had moved off to join the other mustangs. Perhaps it was just my over-active imagination, he thought.
But the brief exchange had been picked up by Smokey, who had watched the new boy approach. When it came to horses and boys, there wasn’t much that the old cowboy missed. He stepped up to the fence beside Hunter and rested his arm on the top rail. “I could use your help with that mare if you’re up to it.”
Hunter straightened and stepped down from the fence. He rolled his eyes. “I don’t do horses. If they don’t have a motor and four tires,” he said, thinking of the ATV’s on his grandpa’s farm, “I don’t ride ‘em.”
The cowboy shrugged his shoulders and turned to look at the little herd of new mustangs he had just adopted from the Bureau of Land Management. “Well, that’s quite a few horses and somebody’s gonna have to help me. Might as well be you.” He stuck out his hand, “I’m Smokey. You must be the new boy, Hunter. I’m pleased to meet you.” Hunter put his hands in his pockets. Smokey shrugged, dropped his hand and turned on his well-worn heel. As he walked away, he had a smile on his face. Smokey prided himself on being able to read teenage boys as well as he could read horses.
With a whoop and holler, a rope sailed over Hunter’s head and tightened around his chest, pinning his arms to his side. “Hey…what the heck!” Hunter exclaimed as he turned around. “What do ya think yer doin’!” he yelled.
At the other end of the rope stood Julius, laughing with delight. “Hey, Smokey! I caught myself a young steer!”
Hunter, his jaw clenched and his face red with both anger and embarrassment, peeled the rope down and stepped out of it.
M.J. Evans is a life-long equestrian who also happens to love to write! She spent her childhood riding in Pony Club in Lake Oswego, Oregon. She is a graduate of Oregon State University and a former teacher at the junior high and high school levels.
She and her husband, high school sweetheart, Tom, are the proud parents of five children and have been blessed with eleven grandchildren.
If Mrs. Evans isn't writing, you'll find her competing in the Dressage arena or riding in the Colorado Mountains.
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