July 27, 2013

The inspirations behind BALANCING ACT, a Kovak & Quaid horse mystery by Toni Leland

by Toni Leland

For me, almost anything can be an inspiration to write about horses. As I said in my Amazon Author Profile, there is no known cure for horse-crazy. But plotting the newest mystery adventures of Kovak & Quaid landed me in the middle of something I'd loved for years – theatrical and artistic presentations with horses.

Evolving from something known as hippodrama at the turn of the nineteenth century, the use of horses in theatrical storytelling has endured through the centuries, changing, maturing, becoming ever more beautiful and awe-inspiring.

Those early shows blended circus-type horse riding and tricks with melodrama. The first such event opened in 1803 in London, a spectacle that included 36 horses and riders performing at the same time. The genre became popular and the story subjects usually centered on tales from the Far East or about European military feats. These performances were often billed as circuses, as evidenced by the first American theater building in New York (1825) – Lafayette Circus, and The Circus of Pepin and Breschard which presented Don Quixote de la Mancha in New York City in 1809. By the late 1890s, the genre had all but disappeared, replaced by moving pictures as entertainment for the masses.

But horses are still a huge draw and millions of people love them, own them, ride them, or simply turn out to watch them perform. My own first experience with horses in artistry was an amazing evening of costumes and beautiful riding skills, provided to hundreds of horse-folk and spectators at the large horse show in Springfield, Massachusetts in the late 80's. For someone who'd spent her life dreaming about being on horseback, these performances were thrilling. I wanted to do that!

My next encounter with this specialty entertainment was the Pfizer Fantasia at Equine Affaire. Okay, now they really had my attention! I can't tell you how many plots and ideas I dreamed up about the things I saw at those events. But more than that, the skill and care that was so apparent between the handlers, riders, or dancers and their horses was very emotional. Watching Sylvia Zerbini orchestrate 9 white Arabian horses with only hand and voice commands was an almost spiritual experience. The horses watched her every move, dancing around the arena to the strains of beautiful music. Or the black Friesians with their flowing manes and tails – carrying Carnival-costumed riders with feathered headpieces and glittering masks – moving in perfect cadence, each footfall in exact time to drums and a stirring beat.

Is this not the stuff of inspiration? So, on to my new mystery, Balancing Act.

Quite by accident, I came across a Facebook post about the Noble Horse Theater in Chicago. Now there's a great idea, I thought. And indeed, it is a fabulous place, housed in the oldest livery stable in the Windy City. Performances on horseback thrill thousands of people each year as they come to see The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Nutcracker, or Quadrille
So...what if a mystery were to unfold in such a place?

See? Inspiration!

And so an idea was born. It grew and evolved and changed many times. As I wrote, I researched, and my ideas exploded as the list of artistic equestrian venues grew. The Dancing Horse Theater near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin performs year around. The Alizee Horse Show is an amazing event, and Cavallo Equestrian Arts performs around the country. Cavalia and Odysseo are world famous attractions and – lucky me – I will be attending Odysseo in New England the week after Balancing Act is released.

After all, my inspiration well needs to be refilled, right?

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