By Doris Degner-Foster
Like many people who ride, Grand Prix dressage rider Tami Hoag has a day job. It’s a unique occupation where she invents new worlds and manipulates everyone who lives there — or at least tries to. An international bestselling author of 34 books, Tami explains that things don’t always go as they were originally planned.
“Little did I know that you don’t actually have that much control when writing,” Tami said. “You create a world and then the characters kind of take over, and they don’t always do what you think they would. It’s an amazing process and you have to learn to trust that.”
Many of those characters have gotten out of hand to the point of killing others, but since that becomes the basis of the suspense-filled story, it’s a good thing. As an inventor of characters who kill people in some of the most grisly ways possible, a reader might wonder about the person who writes such things. Especially since that person does mixed martial arts as her fitness routine and could probably knock someone out with a single punch. “I’m a huge fan of mixed martial arts fighting, so going to the fights is big fun for me,” Tami said. “I travel all over the country to fights four or five times a year. Pizza and fight night on TV is an ideal evening at home for me.”
An Active Imagination
Tami’s writing began as a child, and her first book was a third grade assignment. Growing up in a family with much older siblings, playing alone often fueled her active imagination, and her writing. As an adult, she wrote without the support of a class or other writers.
“I lived in the middle of nowhere, so I didn’t have a writers’ group or anything like that to be a part of, but that’s not my nature anyway,” Tami explained. “I’m the one that’s covering my paper so no one will look at what I’m doing.”
After researching the book market, Tami decided that a romance novel would be a good place to get started as a writer. She found a particular publisher that she thought she’d like to work with, but she didn’t immediately send her book there. Tami got an agent to represent her because she felt that she lacked the knowledge of publishing and contracts. Her homework paid off; the book was a good fit for that publisher and it was accepted.
“For me, every story is about the psychology of the characters and the dynamics of their relationships. That doesn’t change from one genre to the next,” Tami said. “I went from writing romantic comedy to suspense because I find delving into the darker aspects of psychology fascinating, and because I like the adrenaline rush of writing about high-stakes, life-and-death situations.”
Tami’s interest in psychology has fueled her independent study in the subject for over 30 years, and she has come to the conclusion that nobody is entirely evil. They’re the hero of their own story and they’ve somehow rationalized what they do.
“When I go to write a character, I want to know who this person is. Where do they come from, and what forged them into the person they’ve become?” Tami said. “Whether it’s the hero or heroine, the victim or the criminal, I want to know what led up to the moment that this happened. What drives somebody to commit a murder and how did they arrive at the point where that was an acceptable choice?”
Benefits of Riding and Dressage
Tami is successful on her own as a writer, but riding is a different matter. After riding western as a child, she looked beyond that discipline to other styles of riding as an adult. “When I first decided I wanted to try dressage, I was lucky enough to stumble across Marianne Ludwig, who was living in Rochester, Minnesota, at the time,” Tami remembered.
“There was very little dressage in the area, so to find an accomplished rider and judge in my backyard was miraculous. Marianne gave me a very correct, classical start in the sport. Then I moved to Virginia and met Betsy Steiner at a cocktail party. Betsy helped me find my first dressage horse, D’Artagnon, through her friend, Guenter Seidel. So the universe has definitely looked out for me as a dressage rider.”
Betsy has become her riding mentor and good friend for over 20 years. Some of their memorable times have been on trips to Europe to buy horses, where things don’t always go as planned.
“There was a time I took a sleeping pill on the airplane and the pill didn’t agree with me, so I was out of it,” Tami remembered. “I’m five foot eight and Betsy is this little Tinkerbell, and she had to try to make our way through Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport while I’m staggering around, I was so stoned on this pill! They had to put me in a wheelchair, then they piled the luggage on top of me. It was crazy!”
D’Artagnon, Tami’s first dressage horse, had a role in her book Dark Horse, set in the show world of Wellington, Florida, during the winter show season. Sidelines Magazine also plays a pivotal purpose in the story.
Riding for Fun
Riding is beneficial to Tami’s writing and is the perfect mental break. “Dressage is all-consuming when I’m on the horse. I have to be completely present in the moment for every step the horse takes,” Tami explained. “This occupies my conscious mind and allows my subconscious to do its thing without interference from me. Riding is like meditation for me.”
Because of commitments with writing deadlines and promoting her 35th novel and 19th New York Times Bestseller, The Bitter Season, Tami didn’t compete during the 2016 winter circuit. She rides her Hanovarian gelding, Lonestar, three or four times each week.
Lonestar and Tami have done well in competition. One of their high points was winning the freestyle competition at the Gold Coast Dressage Finale in West Palm Beach, Florida, a few years ago. They rocked out to a medley of music that included Katy Perry and Beyonce.
“I’m riding strictly for fun,” Tami said of her current schedule. “Lonestar is a big sweetheart, and he loves to work and be a partner in the work. Every day with Lonestar is a good day.”
About the writer: Doris Degner-Foster rides with Harvard Fox Hounds when she isn’t interviewing interesting individuals in the horse sport. She enjoys writing fiction and is working on a novel where a horse appears mysteriously in people’s lives to help them through a crisis. She’s also writing a middle-grade series about kids who ride horses and solve mysteries.
Photos by Emily Allongo, emilyallongophotography.com