It’s not every day a book series offers teen angst, romance, a bit of mystery, and a protagonist who swaps identities with her horse! But that’s exactly the juicy brew author Rachael Eliker serves up in her Nadia and Winny series.

The series follows Nadia Wells and her horse, Winny, from their first encounter in Headed for the Win, to their first four star in Road to the Regalia.

Though these books fall under the YA category, any horse lover will appreciate the dynamic between horse and human that Eliker creates, not to mention her vivid cross country scenes that make even the most novice riders fantasize about tackling a 4 star cross country course.

If you have a teenager in the house that reads more than 140 characters at a time, or just want to indulge the one still inside you, then now is the time to check out this series. There’s a free promo for the second book of the series, Road to the Regalia, starting on October 19th. Full descriptions of both books can be found after the Q&A.

What inspired you to write the Nadia and Winny series?

As with many relationships, riding and horses has evolved for me over the years. Though I used to be able to train and compete regularly, much of my time is now tied up in family (especially small children), major home improvements, community and church volunteering, etc. So, as an outlet for incessant daydreaming about being able to compete again, I decided to write a fun equestrian series that would allow me to experience some of the thrill of riding, even if I wasn’t able to physically be sitting in the saddle. Finally biting the bullet and publishing the start of this series has given me more motivation to pen other books that are also floating around in my mind.

In both books, horse and rider swap places, seeing things from one another’s perspective. Was that just a fun plot twist or is there a deeper meaning behind the switch?

Honestly, I think it was a bit of both. As a reader, I enjoy fun twists to traditional plotlines, so I decided the Nadia and Winny books would be an ideal setting to include a body swap while still including many of the usual elements equestrian readers enjoy. As a rider, I’ve often wondered what on earth my horses were thinking—when they shy at plastic bags floating by, why they’re willing to swim in a lake but stop and snort at a puddle, why they sidestep at certain corners of the arena. Getting into the mind of a horse would be truly fascinating. On a deeper level, I think there can be other lessons taken away from Nadia and Winny’s story. It’s easy to be short-tempered and grumpy with someone (human or animal) who is less-than-loveable but if we took the time to listen and learn one another’s history, I think we’d all be a lot more understanding.

What is your typical reader like? What do you hope they’ll take away from reading your books?

Something enjoyable I’ve discovered about writing in the equestrian genre is that though people who are avid readers are obviously horse lovers, they all come from different walks of life and have varying experiences with these magnificent animals. Some have never owned a horse of their own while others have their own herd but what ties us together is our fascination and love of the animals. I’ve had twelve-year olds up to grandmothers tell me they’ve enjoyed the books, which is an honor to be read by such a great age range. Regardless of their background, I hope they appreciate the bond between horse and rider, the excitement of competing, and the importance of being a friend first and foremost.

Your descriptions of competition, especially cross country, are very exciting and have vivid detail. Do you do a lot of research such as interviewing riders and walking courses? Or are your descriptions based off your own riding experience?

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about living in Indianapolis is my close proximity to the Kentucky Horse Park, specifically for access to the Rolex Three-Day Event. I’ve wanted to go for years and now that we’re within a couple hours’ drive, we’ve gone as a family several times. Seeing the horses in action, talking to the riders, hearing the roar of the crowd, walking the course and actually seeing the jumps and the stadium has really fueled Nadia and Winny’s riding scenes. That being said, the feeling of riding—the thrill and excitement—comes primarily from my own experience. There’s little that can compare to a horse galloping beneath you in an open field. I can practically feel my heart racing every time I close my eyes and recall it. So, it’s really a combination of both!

You document a lot of your life on your blog The Rehomesteaders. How much do your own animals and children influence the Nadia and Winny series? What else influences your characters?

I’d say quite a bit of my writing has to do with the people and animals in my life, whether past or present. For one, my children are an endless source of inspiration—the things they do and what comes out of their mouths are often hilarious and sometimes so deep, raw, or poignant that they really cause me to think. As for animals, some of them have been as influential or more-so than some people. Stoney, our faithful old gelding, has been with me for nearly 20 years. We’ve been through a lot, and the nature of our relationship hasn’t always been the same, which has given me a wide range of emotional experiences with him. He has a pasturemate—an eight-year old mare who’s so sassy and opinionated that she’s a character in her own right. I can certainly see pieces of them, as well as people who, for good or bad, have left on impression on me. Elements of them are found in the characters in my books, even if the characters are as individual as any real person.

What projects do you currently have in the pipeline?

I think if I had the time, I could easily spend eight hours a day writing in one form or another! Nadia and Winny will certainly return in a third book (Gloria can’t get away with anything!) and I’ve begun another YA Dystopian book, entitled The Midnight Slaves (horses seem to have made it into that book, too). Otherwise, there are all kinds of stories packed in my head from children’s picture books to middle grade to cozy mysteries. All in good time!

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Headed for the Win
Nadia Wells has spent her life trying to convince her parents that horses are a necessity but despite her best efforts, they see them only as an extravagant luxury. After landing her dream job mucking stalls in exchange for riding lessons, a wealthy philanthropist recognizes Nadia’s talent and decides to invest in her. Purchasing a mare nicknamed Winny, Nadia is sure she’s bound for equestrian greatness but on the cusp of their most challenging three-day event yet, Winny bucks Nadia off in front of a crowd of her peers. Humiliated and fuming, Nadia makes a birthday wish that she could better understand her horse. The next morning, she wakes up to discover she has four hooves and a tail swishing between her legs: she and Winny have switched places! If life as a teenage-girl-turned-show-horse wasn’t hard enough, Nadia has to figure out a way to tell the dashing Mike how she feels or risk losing him and the competition to the talented, gorgeous and spoiled Gretchen. Will the pair concede defeat or work together to overcome the impossible and be headed for the win?

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Road to the Regalia
Nadia Wells and her horse, Winny, have rocketed up the ranks of eventing and are ready to appear in their first internationally rated four-star show at the Regalia Horse Park. Though Nadia has kept secret her switching places with Winny years earlier at the Gallant Meadows event, the experience is anything but a distant memory. Between competing and looking poised for the Olympic Scouts eyeing them for next year’s team, Nadia has to try and keep longtime boyfriend Mike safe from a former fling’s advances while trying to deflect another handsome competitor herself. Focused on winning even though they are novices at the most advanced level of the sport, they’re taken by surprise when the morning after the opening gala, they wake up in each other’s bodies. While struggling to master their reversed roles, Winny has to face her own demons once she discovers Gloria, a former abusive owner, is also competing. It’s been a long road to the Regalia for Nadia and Winny but they’re determined to take first place despite a cheater who’s willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get rid of the competition.

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About Rachael Eliker
Rachael Eliker was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska. She attended UNL where she studied Animal Science with an option in Biology, before moving to Iowa with her husband to live on a century-old farmstead. She currently lives on an acreage in Indiana, with her husband and four children where she enjoys challenging home improvement projects, running on lonely stretches of country road and writing young adult fiction. Read more about her upcoming work at rachaeleliker.com.