Susan Friedland-Smith may not be aware (yet) but she has been a bit of a mentor to me as an equestrian writer and blogger.
I fell in love first with her Instagram and there a was a lot that struck a chord with me. An adult equestrian with horse show anxiety, loving her OTTB and also working a full time job. I can relate!
It was through Susan’s social media that I first learned of BlogPaws pet blogger network and subsequently through our interaction she recommended American Horse Publications. Both of which I since joined and have had wonderful experiences. In many ways, she has been an inspiration to me. So I was really pleased when she agreed to an interview on Bridle & Bone!
Read on to learn more about Susan and her blog, Saddle Seeks Horse.
Saddle Seeks Horse: A Lifestyle Blog for the Everyday Equestrian
Q: I love the name of your blog but the story behind it is a bit bittersweet. Can you tell us about it?
Thank you for the blog name compliment! The short version of the story is that I was one of those girls for whom dating was a series of fiascoes (think a Midwestern, horse-loving, more boring version of Bridget Jones–I’m actually finishing up my horse lover’s dating memoir now which tells the tale!) I had this amazing dark bay Thoroughbred who “walked” with me through my years upon years of singleness. I finally found a man who made me laugh, shared my faith, and I was compatible with after years of awkward dating: my horse hubby Mark.
A week or so before our wedding
I made my last single gal big purchase–a saddle! Why? Because my trusty thoroughbred DC was now 23 and had gotten a bit swaybacked and his saddle no longer fit him well. I knew it would be too complicated to explain to my new hubby why an old horse needed a new saddle, so I had to act before our wedding day to alleviate a newlywed money discussion.
A few months after our wedding, my otherwise healthy gelding colicked and that was it. I was heartbroken and had this brand new saddle in the garage of our fixer-upper home. It sat there collecting dust for a few years as we were house poor and I had not located a good new barn close to my new home. When the time was right and I knew I could look for another horse again, I kept thinking about doing the saddle a service by finding it a nice horse to love. In actuality, it (finding a new horse) was just for me, but I could blame it on the orphaned saddle.
Q: You have an OTTB, Tiz A Knight “Knight”. What was your first impression of him? What made him the one for you?
He made me cry! My first impression was sitting at my laptop and opening an attachment. His photo was so gorgeous and he looked like my previous horse DC’s doppleganger. At first I was thinking, “I can’t do this! I can never replace DC.” Then I thought I should at least try him–not be biased against what could be a great horse just because he looked too much like my previous one.
When I tried Knight out, the second I sat in the saddle I felt home.
I walked, trotted and cantered around. Being a pretty fresh off-the track guy with a bit of training and I wasn’t in amazing riding shape, our transitions were not stellar. But he seemed so willing and safe. I just trusted him. My trainer told me to take him over and X and I said, “I don’t want to ruin him!” since I was really out of practice. The seller said, “Treat him like your own.” I think I was giggling for much of the ride because I knew how non-polished we were. At the end the seller said I could ride him around the property to cool down. I walked him alone, on the buckle and I remember a big truck coming toward us down the driveway and Knight just kept plodding along with no worries. I loved how sensible he was (and is).
Q: On your website you mention horse show anxiety, and yet you have done some competitions and riding clinics as an adult. What helps you to overcome and push through?
I don’t feel like I’ve conquered my anxiety at all. The last show I went to one of my horse besties came and she was incredible (she’s someone I met via blogging and we’ve turned into real life friends). She joked with me about how no one there really cared–no one was watching and critiquing. Everyone is busy doing their own thing. “There are no hecklers here,” she said.
I try to think of shows as a recital. I’m not really a competitive person. I’m not going to be going to the Olympics or A circuit. Take me bowling and I’ll get bored halfway through. If I play ping pong or tennis, it’s fun to win, but I don’t really care about the score. It’s just good to be active and have a relationship with the person on the other end. So when I go to a show I think about it as a benchmark of progress for me and for my horse. Did we have better rides than the last show? Did we build our relationship? Did we have fun? If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it.
Q: A few months ago you had a nasty fall, which you wrote about on Saddle Seeks Horse, and ultimately went viral. What about your story do you feel resonated with the public?
My Avoid This Dangerous Donut in the Saddle post did blow me away. As far as the viral part, I wonder how much of it was the clever title–because a dangerous donut?!?–and how much was the cool photo I used (I can say it was cool because I didn’t take it–it was kinda artsy). But ultimately the story was shared repeatedly I think because other equestrians had seen similar accidents and wanted to make sure their friends, kids, barn family were aware of this potential danger (letting your horse’s face get close to the stirrup). The people who shared wanted to increase their loved ones’ safety awareness. Some of the stories I read in the comments section on Facebook were truly tragic. One of my friend’s friends lost a horse from a similar type accident.
I also think the way I told the story was kind of artsy too. Even though I write a lot, it doesn’t come easy. I feel like I’m more of a storyteller–like I’m talking to you, rather than a novel writer or journalist. But something about that blog post came out of my brain, through my fingertips and onto the electronic page in a way that kept people wanting to read more. I think it was the special chronology maybe? I wish I knew how to replicate that because I’d love more of my content to resonate with folks and go viral! 🙂
Q: In 2016 you were named “Best Unconventional Pet Blog” by BlogPaws. What was it like to be singled out among all those dog and cat blogs?
That was a super fun experience. I love BlogPaws–I have learned so much from them–and when I went to the conference in Phoenix, everyone was so nice. I had no idea though that if I won I’d have to go up on a large stage in front of hundreds of people to accept the award. Think the Emmy’s or Academy Awards. I made a really nerdy joke at the end of my acceptance speech about how horse lovers are stable people–I think that was a T-shirt in the 80s. Anyway, the audience laughed and I thought that was probably new material for them since they were mostly dog and cat folks. It was truly and honor and I even got written up in our local newspaper and BlogPaws made a generous $500 donation to Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue in the name of Saddle Seeks Horse.
Q: As a contributor to Sidelines and Horse Illustrated magazines, what advice would you give aspiring freelance equestrian writers?
- Just start writing. If you don’t have a blog, start that first. Then you’ll have a portfolio for editors to see.
- Read the publications. As a teacher, my best writers are the kids who read. On day one of the school year I can tell from a simple writing assignment such as a friendly letter introduction, which students love books. By reading the publications (and hopefully being a reader in life) you are not only getting a feel for the magazine’s style, but seeing what content they publish.
- Join American Horse Publications and try to attend one of their conferences. They have a “speed dating” type event for magazine editors and freelancers to meet. That is where I first pitched Sidelines about doing a story for them about riding on the trail up to the Hollywood sign. The editor loved it and a relationship was born.
- Don’t expect to get rich. I would not advise someone to think freelance equine journalism could be a career by itself unless you write extremely well extremely fast. Or unless you also are a good photographer, or have other services.
- Try to get published on online sites too. Having an article in print is really cool, but you can also have your work published on digital platforms (like Horse Network, Horse Nation, Equitrekking, etc.) If anyone reading this has more specific questions, I’m happy to help them if they drop me a line at Susan@saddleseekshorse.com.
Q: You are a successful equestrian writer as well as a Middle School teacher in the Los Angeles area. How do you balance these two careers and still find time for riding?
What is this balance of which you speak? Seriously though, I am very good at separating. When I’m at school–it’s all school (except maybe during my lunch break I’ll peruse the Internet for horsey stuff). Because I have taught my subject matter for so many years, I kind of have it down. I plan lessons and grade things kind of piecemeal when I have windows of time at school.
When I’m in my car commuting I do a lot of thinking about blog and equestrian topics. I only ride 3-4 days a week (2x in a lesson). I wish it were more. But I have a wonderful trainer who makes sure Knight is exercised, loved on, etc. when I’m not there.
Q: I think we are pretty similar in that we like to challenge ourselves. So what is next for you?
Besides ongoing product reviews and a few giveaways on the blog, I have two things in the works that really excite me. The first is I am finishing up my first book. I have chronicled my harrowing dating experiences and horse loves into a memoir. Right now I’m navigating the ending chapter. It’s about 60,000 words at this point and in the Beta reader stage.
The second is that I envision doing more collaboration in the video realm of equestrianism. I can’t say much about it now, but I’m very jazzed. YouTube here I come!
Q: Where can my readers follow you?
I would LOVE for your readers to follow my blog! Thank you for inviting me to invite them.
If they want to join my twice-a month email list to get update on recent blog posts, giveaways and fun stuff, they can click here to subscribe. And here are my various social links (I spend most of my time on FB and IG).
My blog is saddleseekshorse.com