Zola: What exactly is a “catch rider”?
Jennifer H. Lyne: A “catch rider” is someone who is hired at a horse show to ride a horse in competition, sometimes on the spot. They have to be able to make quick adjustments and get the best performance out of a horse for the owner.
Zola: Sid, the main character, can’t afford the costs of formal riding competitions, yet she has far more natural skill than her wealthy peers. How autobiographical is Sid? Did you grow up riding? If so, do you still?
JL: I grew up riding, but I’m not right now. I think I wrote the book as a way to get back into the horse world. It’s autobiographical in the sense that I felt outspent and could never really compete with the wealthy horse girls, but I didn’t grow up like Sid—my family is middle class. I knew people like Sid, and I knew people like Ashley, but the ones I wanted to hang out with were like Sid. We had the most fun, riding in the woods and jumping logs. Some of my best riding memories are from Tuckahoe Plantation outside of Richmond, where Thomas Jefferson used to walk to school. We galloped through the woods on retired foxhunters who would jump anything you put in front of them. I rode Senator John Warner’s retired foxhunter, Rascal, who threw me into the mud on my back.
Zola: Your author bio mentions that your grandfather built the barn where Secretariat was born. How did he come to have that job? Did he ever share any Secretariat stories?
JL: My grandfather was a respected builder in Richmond who worked on some great projects, mostly Colonial-style homes in the West End, but he wasn’t a really a horseman. His daughter, my mother, is a real horse person and a great rider. She was like Sid in that she would climb on any horse and tear around Goochland County. Although I don’t have Secretariat stories from my grandfather, my good friend Sandi Hooper Melnyk was in the barn a few days after Secretariat was born. She says his dam, Something Royal, was notably plain and “muley,” but that she threw great foals. The Chenery family joked that Secretariat was too pretty to amount to anything. Sandy said that as a weanling, Secretariat used to canter past the yearlings, easily passing them in the field. It’s funny, as much time as I spent around horses, I know next to nothing about racing.
Zola: Some competitive riders—such as the daughters of Bruce Springsteen and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg—spend millions on their horses and training. Has riding always been a pastime strictly for the wealthy? Is there anything the sport could do to shed its elitist image?
JL: Riding has become more a pastime for the wealthy, but what makes you a good rider is not having an expensive horse; what makes you a good rider is riding bad horses, mean horses, tricky horses…everything. That is something money can’t buy. Many times, the kids who clean stalls in exchange for lessons turn out to be the best riders.
Zola: As the co-founder of a film production company, what actors would you love to see in a film version of Catch Rider?
JL: I have thought of so many actors who could play Wayne: Robert Duvall, Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper. I asked Robert Duvall’s agent to let him read this when it was a script, but he wouldn’t give it to him. I really want Jackie Earle Haley to play Donald–just thinking about it gives me the shivers. He’d add layers to the story and character that aren’t even there yet, which is what a good film adaptation does: it adds to the book.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.