Welcome to a new blog post where bestselling author Amanda Wills talks about the research behind her new Riverdale book... including participating in a TREC competition!
Words by Amanda:
"When people ask me what I love about being an author, I usually tell them it’s the ability to go to work in my pyjamas and kill off people who annoy me.
But actually, one of the things I enjoy most is the research involved in writing about a subject I know little about.
For example, I learnt all about quadrilles when I was writing The Thirteenth Horse and its sequel Trophy Horse, and even designed my own routines for the four main characters, Kristy, Norah, Sofia and William.
For my latest novel, The Mystery of Riverdale Tor, the eighth book in the Riverdale Pony Stories, I have been getting to grips with an equestrian sport that seems to be growing in popularity all the time – TREC.
TREC originated in France and is based on the skills needed for hacking, testing a rider’s navigation skills and their horse’s ability to tackle different terrain and natural obstacles.
The competition is divided into three phases – orienteering, control of paces and an obstacle section, which recreates some of the natural hazards you might meet out hacking, such as gates, steps, a river crossing or a fallen log.
Think handy pony meets a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expedition and you’re almost there.
TREC seemed like the perfect new discipline for my pony-mad heroine Poppy McKeever and her best friend Scarlett to try their hands at – and hopefully enjoy!
Before I started writing the book I scoured the TREC GB website and watched endless videos on YouTube to get an idea what it was all about. But I figured there’s no better way to research something new than to have a go yourself, and so I did!
Luckily one of my friends at the yard where I ride is a big fan of TREC and regularly competes.
When she set up an obstacle course in the outdoor school and invited me to have a go I jumped at the chance.
Dobbie, the dark bay 15.1hh Connemara I ride every Friday, looked slightly askance when he saw the various obstacles, which ranged from pretend rivers and roadworks to bending poles and a rope gate.
Neck reining, reining back, jumping and standing perfectly still for mounting and dismounting are all skills that need to be mastered if you are going to score highly at TREC.
But Dobbie’s an easy-going, unflappable kind of chap and he took it all in his stride.
To complete my research, I went along to watch a local TREC competition taking place and began to get to grips with the complicated scoring system.
Armed with all the information I needed, I was able to start writing my book, confident that all my research would make the TREC scenes both accurate and believable.
Along the way I discovered that TREC is a really fun discipline to enjoy with your horse or pony and can improve both your horsemanship and your horse or pony’s manners.
One of the things I love about the sport is that it doesn’t matter if you ride a glossy show pony or a hairy cob and at any TREC competition you’ll find native ponies competing side by side with re-trained racehorses or retired hunters.
This is because the emphasis is on horsemanship rather than horse power and well-trained, calm horses and ponies will always do best.
If you’re wondering how Poppy and Scarlett got on when they gave TREC a go…you’ll just have to read the book to find out!"
Thanks Amanda for a great blog post! The eighth edition of the Riverdale Series is out now - The Mystery of Riverdale Tor and I am looking forward to checking it out!
It's available in eBook or paperback on Amazon here.
Sweetbriars Equestrian book series will soon be looking for a new cover star!
A lucky girl aged between ten and fifteen years old will win a photoshoot with her pony, and grace the next book cover!
To learn more, follow Sweetbriars on Facebook or join the Sweetbriars mailing list from this website.
"Sweetbriars Farm, like heaven for a horsey girl." Read more here!
Thank you for signing up to the Sweetbriars newsletter and for you interest in the Sweetbriars books!
It seemed like a distant dream to publish a book a couple of short years ago... being fully immersed in a corporate job, which took up most of my time and energy. Then my life changed in a big way when I was made redundant from my job and had a baby (my first), and experienced my fair share of sleepless nights that is for sure.... but I decided I was going to do something creative and reconnected with my dream to write a book.
I chipped away each day finishing the manuscript I wrote many years back - around trying to figure out how to care for a baby (not as easy as a horse). It was my dream to create a fun, addictive equestrian book series like the Saddle Club series which I used to love to read as a child. Well I would read any horse book actually, but I liked these particularly, as I enjoyed seeing the characters; humans and horses evolve as the series progressed.
Since publishing Leaving The City, it has received wonderful reviews. As a first time author I find this both surreal and wonderful! The reviews have come from not only children, but also adults, teenagers, as well as authors and book bloggers. In addition to that, Horse & Hound called it a must-read for every horse child! You can check out most of the reviews here
The book reached number 1 as the best selling children's equestrian book on Amazon in the UK, and additionally number 3 in Literature and Fiction for Intermediate readers. Amazon have an algorithm so this ranking changes regularly, however the book is usually on the first page of best sellers in the UK and it's starting to replicate this on Amazon in the US which is totally amazing to me!
Leaving The City also went into the public library of Pirkkala in Finland (and is available to 5 more libraries). For me this was a real high as I spent so many years at my local library before I was a teenager, with my nose in a book. I was overjoyed to see my book on the shelf with other books from well known authors!
Additionally I made an agreement with the RDA to donate a percentage of the sales from Leaving The City, to help raise money. Recently I was at my friend's property in Australia and her son has autism and doesn't speak much yet (he is 5 years old). We stayed with them for almost a week and he didn't say one word to us. He lives inside his head although understands a lot. She sat him on her daughter's pony at the end of a lesson and to see the look on his face! Completely at ease, relaxed, beaming and full of joy. It makes me happy to think that Sweetbriars supports a charity giving countless experiences like this to children with disabilities all over the world. You can learn more here.
On the website we have an interview with our cover-star, talented show rider Faye Heppelthwaite which you can find here. I am sure young riders (and readers) will find this interview interesting and inspiring... understanding what it takes to become a top rider like Faye.
To wrap up, I am currently writing the second book in the series and hope it will be released by Spring next year. This time it will be about Tabby. Readers will find out the fate of her horse Bliss that was injured in Leaving The City, and about her loan horse Nancy. Additionally more will be revealed about Sophia and her family, and there will be plenty of action at the Sweetbriars Equestrian Centre as word gets around and it becomes 'the place to be' for equestrians ( :
This also means we will soon be looking for a new cover star! This time we want to go one step further and organise a photo shoot for our new cover star. More information will follow as we get closer to the release of the new book. So if you know any budding cover stars please tell them about Sweetbriars and to follow us on Facebook or Instagram to keep up to date. Also to sign up to the newsletter via the website of facebook.
If you are looking for ideas for a Christmas present, Leaving The City would make a great stocking filler! Available to purchase on Amazon or via www.sweetbriarsfarm.com.
Again, thanks so so much for subscribing to this newsletter! I hope it was interesting and wishing you a wonderful wrap up to the year and a merry festive period... full of fun and happiness.
And full of hugs, carrots and polos for the ponies.
Lovely five star review from book blogger Susan Hampson... "Any horse mad girl would love this story, the first of a series."
Sweetbriars is proud to support the RDA, with donating a percentage of each book sale to this wonderful charity.
The RDA horses and ponies provide therapy, achievement and enjoyment to people with disabilities all over the UK. Their network of 500 volunteer groups organise activities such as riding, carriage driving, vaulting, showjumping and Hippotherapy to over 25,000 people each year.
The RDA has been carrying out life-changing activities for almost 50 years, and take great pride in the exceptional standard of their coaches and volunteers (18,000 in all).
They offer activities for all age groups and, wherever possible, to people with any disability – and you’re just as likely to find an RDA Group in an urban setting as a rural one.
They rely on voluntary help, donations and legacies to deliver their services.
Get reading and help the RDA!