By Britney Grover
Portraits by Kirsten Hannah
Kathy Simmers didn’t intend to become a children’s author, but the stories just come to her. After 20 years as a CPA with her own accounting firm, Kathy grew tired of the stress and deadlines, and shifted to working from home in Pittsboro, North Carolina, as an independent rep for a wellness company. “I build my work around my life instead of my life around my work,” she said. “I have flexibility to write books, spend time with my animals and do the things that make me happy.”
One of the things that makes Kathy happiest is sharing her horse stories with a new generation of horse-crazy kids. “Jump the Moon” is a true story about a girl separated from her heart-pony, and her mission to find the pony again years later. “As we follow the girl on her emotional journey, we are all reminded to trust your heart, follow your dreams and never, ever give up,” Kathy said.
Award-winning artist Marjorie van Heerden illustrated “Jump the Moon” as well as Kathy’s newest book, “Posey’s Problem.” “Posey’s Problem” is the story of Posey, a champion show pony who has to learn resiliency and to keep the people she loves in her heart as her kids outgrow her and move on over and over. “Kids often have to go through changes that they had no say in. Friends move away. They change schools. They have to adjust to new situations,” Kathy explained. “There are people from our past, as adults, that were important relationships, people we worked with or maybe raised our kids with. People that we just lost contact with. Those are the people we keep in our hearts forever. Just like with Posey, those relationships are special and that love will always be there in our hearts to sustain us. That’s the lesson for all of us.”
How long have you been part of the horse world?
I loved horses from birth, but we lived in suburbia where no one had horses. The world of horses opened up to me through books. I consumed every horse book I could get my hands on. I could feel what it was like to ride the Black Stallion along the beach!
As a teenager, I started riding with Merilee Ventura at Byway Farms and did a little showing in the hunter division. As soon as I got my first job, I bought my first horse, Sinbad. Having a horse of my own was a dream fulfilled. Sadly, after my divorce I was a
single mom with two little kids and I had to rehome him.
My life was not complete without a horse. It took a while to get on my feet, but when I was ready I bought Baron, a 4-year-old Thoroughbred, who became the love of my life. I had hoped to do great things with him, but had to retire him two years later after a hock injury. Even though I couldn’t ride him, we were joined at the heart. I lost him when he was 33. I have other horses now, but I still miss him every day.
My husband, Gil, and I met at Byway Farms when he first started riding at age 40. (My daughter met her husband there, too.) He was finally pursuing his riding dreams. Now he has combined his love of horses with his building skills. His company, Hoof Print Construction, builds equestrian facilities, keeping us very involved in the horse world.
Tell us about your family, farm and the animals you have.
When we lived on Long Island, we had two horses on a half-acre in our backyard—truly a mini farm! When grandchildren started coming, we relocated to North Carolina. Now we have 19 acres with a pond, board fencing and lots of pasture.
Our two OTTB rescues, Nick and Lexi, are currently spending their days in the fields as pasture ornaments. Lexi belongs to my granddaughter, who is away at college. I have a Paint pony, Li’l Bit, that I ride. We acquired her from a neighbor who realized after she bought her that she knew nothing about horses. My Shetland pony, Buddy, I bought at an online auction by accident. I was just trying to figure out the online bidding. But when nobody else bid, I was the winner!
I also have two miniature horses along with a few goats, alpacas, llamas and chickens. When I told my husband we were getting a llama, he was confused. When I said I wanted a farm he thought I wanted a horse farm. He now knows that farms can have lots of other animals as well—although he always threatens that if I get one more animal, he’s getting a camel! I keep acquiring animals, but there’s no camel in sight—not yet, anyway.
Gil & I have seven kids and 11 grandchildren. Some of them live nearby. One of my granddaughters, Payton, shares my passion for horses. She showed hunters while she was in high school. When she is home from college we do some riding and horse things together. I get to see a lot of her because her horse is here!
What inspired you to write “Jump the Moon” and “Posey’s Problem?”
Both “Jump the Moon” and “Posey’s Problem” are based on real ponies and real life experiences. The story of “Jump the Moon” unfolded before my eyes. My daughter was heartbroken as a teenager when Me Too, the pony she bonded with, was sold. Seven years later, when the pony came to her in her dreams, she set out to find her. It was quite an emotional journey, the hope, the disappointment, the dead ends, the tears and a magical ending. The way she went after that pony inspired me. What if I pursued my dreams like that and never let go? What if everyone did? I was mucking stalls when the story came to me like a download. I was not a writer, but I put down the pitchfork, went in the house and wrote the first draft of “Jump the Moon.” It was a story so full of life lessons that it needed to be told. I hope it inspires other people the way it inspired me.
“Posey’s Problem” came from my own experience. I wasn’t sure that I would write more books. As I started marketing “Jump the Moon,” I realized that there are almost no contemporary horse books for little kids. The ones that are there are hard to find. Kids are still reading the classics that I read when I was a kid like “Misty of Chincoteague” and “The Black Stallion.” There is certainly a need in the marketplace for more horse books. I knew I had more stories to tell.
Pippin was a show pony that was retired at my farm. I had a little girl visiting and the way that pony looked at that little girl touched my heart. I realized that that pony must have had a little girl once. As old as she was, she wanted to have a little girl again. Maddie, Morgan and Mollie Dodge are three sisters that I met at Byway Farms. When they bought Posey, Posey had already been champion many times. It made me wonder how many times Posey had to leave a little girl that she loved.
How did writing your books change you or impact your life?
The world of writing and publishing is a whole new adventure. After years of rejection, I decided to self publish “Jump the Moon.” I soon realized I was in over my head. I reached out to my editor, Simone Kaplan, who had worked at Harper Collins when I first met her. She edited the book and helped me find the artist, the art director and the printer. It takes a whole team of people to produce a picture book! My team is amazing!
Getting the book in my hand was absolutely thrilling! Getting it out into the world is a whole new challenge. There is no clear path in the book world. Writing the book was the beginning, marketing the book is another whole adventure.
Now I’m doing fun things to market the book. I’ve been to Equine Affaire in Ohio and Breyerfest in Kentucky. I’m launching my new book at the Duke Hospital “Jump for the Children” Horse Show. I’m connecting with new people in the equestrian world and the book world. I feel so honored when someone wants my autograph or a picture with the author. The best part is connecting with the kids who love horses as much as I did when I was a kid.
What’s your favorite thing about being a writer?
Writing picture books is hard for me. I want my readers to feel the emotion of the story. It means saying a lot in a few words. My editor is a magician. She knows how to pull the story out of me and she is very demanding. But when the art is done and the book comes together, it makes all the hard work worth it.
We published “Jump the Moon” in the fall of 2020 and sold 2,000 copies in the first three months. On Christmas morning, I pictured all those little kids discovering Me Too and her girl with the long blond hair for the first time. I felt like Santa Claus!
I am a storyteller by nature. I see stories everywhere. I was that horse-crazy 5-year-old that couldn’t get enough of horses. Being able to share my stories with little horse lovers makes that 5-year-old me very happy. I love connecting in person with my readers. I hope my books make them think and dream and connect with horses.
What are you doing in the horse world now and what are your goals?
My goal is to enjoy my horses. I ride so infrequently that I tell people I pretend to ride. I’m starting to join some other ladies for a weekly lesson. They were laughing at me the first time they saw me on a horse because I never stopped smiling. It is my happy place.
Working with my horses at liberty is a new thing for me. I love connecting and communicating with them at a deeper level. I’ve taken some clinics and I’m using Carolyn Resnick’s Waterhole Rituals. Learning to speak their language is fascinating.
But my very best favorite thing is to share my world with children. I love to give kids that have never been around horses the opportunity to have their first horseback experience. I’m not a trainer. I don’t give lessons. But that first time on the horse takes me back to how memorable that was for me. I’m always inviting random people to my farm for pony rides.
What’s your biggest achievement in the horse world?
My biggest achievement in the horse world is that I am in the horse world at all! I had no access to horses as a kid. I was told only rich people have horses. Owning a horse seemed like a dream that would never happen. Now I look out at my horses every day and know how blessed I am. We named our farm Heaven’s Gate, because this is as close to heaven as I can get in this world.
What advice would you give to others considering writing a book?
Write it! But before you publish it, make it a book worth reading. In the world of self-publishing, too many people write a story and publish it right away. It makes me sad when I read a good book that could be a great book with some professional editing. When I brought Posey to my editor, I thought I was close to done. I was devastated when she called it an embryo! It took a lot of work, but I have a book that I think people will enjoy for a long time.
What is the best thing about your life?
When I lived on Long Island, I had two horses on a half acre. Now I look out at 19 acres, fenced pastures and my horses and other animals happily grazing in the fields. It’s the farm I dreamed of since I was a little girl. There were obstacles and setbacks and times when I thought I lost it all, but I never lost sight of the dream. People see how I live now and think that this is how my life has always been. I think everybody should be living their best life. Sometimes people don’t believe that’s possible, so they don’t try. I have the life I always wanted. I am truly blessed every day.
For more information, visit readjumpthemoon.com
Photos by Kirsten Hannah, kirstenhannahphotography.com, unless noted otherwise