There are plenty of resources online and in print for how to prepare and conduct an interview. But what if your subject is a horse?
Last September I interviewed a Haflinger Cross pony named Simon. He’s not just any old horse. He’s a well-known known abstract painter in Upton, Massachusetts. I prepared for Simon’s interview in the same manner as I did with people.
First I did some background reading. It is always good to do a little research before an interview. I read a great book called, How to Speak Horse: A Horse-Crazy Kid’s Guide to Reading Body Language and Talking Back written by Andrea and Marcus Eschbach. Since I don’t speak “horse,” I thought this book was especially useful.
While I’ve done interviews over the phone and via email, I recommend interviewing a pony in person. You always want to look your subject in the eye and a horse wants to look you in the eye. And unless your subject is like Mr. Ed, the talking horse from the old television sitcom, your conversation will be one-sided.
Simon was well prepared for “yes” or “no” answers. He’s been trained well to shake his head “yes” and “no.” But a good interviewer asks questions that demand answers beyond a simple “yes” or “no”. So when I asked Simon he found his inspiration, he considered his answer carefully.
Simon was too modest to tell me, but his owner, artist and toy designer, Karen Laude revealed that he was Artist of the Month at the Upton Library in February 2014. In fact, Simon is a huge supporter of the library. He donated one of his paintings to help the library buy a new circulation desk.
Simon donated one of his paintings to the Wild Hearts Horses for Heroes Charity Benefit, a therapy program for veterans and active-duty soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Simon regularly donates part of the proceeds to the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at Nevins Farm to help horses in need.
So is he motivated by altruism? Well, not entirely. He is truly inspired by peppermint cookies. He’ll do anything for treats–cookies, carrots, and apples. Simon’s paintings have a food theme–like “Apples in the Fall.”
By the way, his preferred medium is water-soluble, non-toxic tempera paint.
Simon is more than a one-trick pony. He plays basketball, soccer, and the maracas. He enjoys versatility competitions at his home, Spring Willow Farm.
He is also extremely personable. Simon shakes hands, wiggles his lower lip to talk, smiles and gives hugs. A true gentleman, Simon pushes open the gate for Karen, picks up his lead and give it to her, stands quietly, and lifts his foot up when asked.
I had a wonderful afternoon with Simon and Karen. Visiting in person, I was able to get a real feel for Simon and his world. It was so much better than an email or phone interview. I met a few of Simon’s friends, too, like the little burro who lives next door and Max, a retired rodeo mule. Thanks to Simon and Karen, I now have a full set of characters for a brand new story.