This post is by Judy Quinn, Writer.
We interviewed Yamile Saied Méndez, author of the Horse Country series, as part of a series celebrating Hispanic and Latine Heritage Month. The titles we’re highlighting this month illuminate the diversity and breadth of the Hispanic and Latine experience, as well as the power of growing up in a multicultural household. The characters in these stories are exploring how their Latine heritage, their communities, and their interests and talents converge to make them who they are.
The first book in your series, Can’t Be Tamed, introduces protagonist Carolina Aguasvivas, a sixth grader growing up in Paradise Ranch, Idaho, where her parents live and work. A main plot point in the book is Carolina’s desire to ride a skittish thoroughbred named Velvet. What inspired you to take up the horse-book genre, which includes such classics as National Velvet, and make Latine characters central to the story? How do you think this enriches the genre for all readers?
I always write about topics I’m passionate about, and I have loved horses all my life, ever since I was a little girl in Argentina. Contrary to popular belief, soccer isn’t Argentina’s national sport—it’s pato (duck), a form of polo played by Indigenous riders and gauchos (the Argentine cowboy). As a child, I was also fascinated by horse books like The Black Stallion and The Saddle Club books, but the characters were never from my own background. I decided to create a fictional world that reflected what I saw in real life—children of all backgrounds becoming friends with horses and learning how to share that love with others.
In Can’t Be Tamed, Carolina also meets Chelsie Sánchez, the new ranch owner’s daughter, who, like Carolina, has a white mother and Latine father. The girls initially struggle to get along. What do you hope your readers learn from the characters’ similarities as well as their differences?
Sometimes, when people are from the same background, others assume they will immediately become best friends, but that is not always the case! I wanted to show that even though both girls have white mothers and Latine fathers, their life experiences could be vastly different. Also, I wanted to show how they can use their differences for a common good, which in this case was helping Velvet, the mare they both love.
The next books in the series focus on Carolina working with “sponsored students” who arrive to the ranch via its new Unbridled Dreams program. How are you seeking to expand the inclusiveness of the horse book genre here? Why do you think the horse world is such a powerful forum for finding common ground and healing?
Horses have a power to connect to people’s hearts and souls. I think it’s because of how vulnerable they are, but also how majestic!
Unfortunately, anything related to horses can be cost prohibitive to those people, especially children, who need their healing power the most! I wanted to show all the ways in which horses can be a part of life, which didn’t include a boarding school or expensive riding programs. Carolina and Chelsie are very aware of how the costs of taking care of a horse or pursing an activity with them can exclude so many children. They want to show ways in which children can enjoy being with horses, whether it’s riding or reading to them, and not necessarily having to be involved in a competitive sport.
You were born and raised in Argentina, lived most of your life in Utah, yet these books are set in in Idaho. Why was this change-up in locale important? How has your own background flavored this series?
I wanted to set the series in a place as beautiful as Argentina or Utah, and Idaho is the gem state for a reason! It’s the backdrop of many breathtaking views! It’s also close enough to Utah that I’m very familiar with it, and could write about it authentically, which is always one of my main goals in every story I tell. I also wanted to show how diverse the West is in general, again, contrary to people’s expectations.
I have so many ideas for Paradise Ranch, and I hope I get to tell them all! In the third installment, the sponsored student is a boy, Rockwell. Although the horse girl trope is very popular with horse books, the appeal of horses isn’t only limited to girls! I want to show a diverse group of friends, girls, and boys, learning from each other and the animals they love.