Authors & Illustrators
Jessie Haas has written more than thirty-five books, most of them about horses. Her novels include Sharper, which won a Golden Kite Honor Award, and Unbroken, which was a Publishers Weekly Best Book, a School Library Journal Best Book, and a CCBC Choice, among other honors. She lives in Vermont with her husband, a horse, two cats, a dog, and a hen. Visit jessiehaas.com.
A Conversation with Jesse Haas
Q: Are any of the characters in Rescue based on real life?
A: Yes. Archie is based on our family’s first pony, Scamper. I’ve used him in other books, but it’s been awhile, so it was fun to spend time with his spirit again. Joni is loosely based on a childhood friend who was a good rider and a total happy camper. And Mrs. Abernathy is based on some friends who drive carriage horses competitively. They are brave and intimidating ladies who compete at a high level, and spend their lunch breaks comparing surgeries for their arthritic hips. Good to know there are horse sports you can do when you are old and beat-up!
The setting for Rescue is also based on real life. It takes place in my neighborhood in southern Vermont. Joni’s farm is just like the one down the road where another childhood friend makes award-winning sheep’s milk cheese.
Q: Chess is very different from Joni. Did you have a friendship like that when you were a kid?
A: I did. When writing about Chess, I had in mind a girl who came to our class in fifth or sixth grade. She had lived in cities and in foreign countries, and she read different kinds of books. I pretty much read only horse books at that time, but Jean was passionate about Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time, and My Side of the Mountain, and made me want to read them too. She really opened my mind. Plus, she had the best laugh, which I borrowed for Chess. Being her friend felt brave to me, because her life was so different, and it was the first time I understood that friends don’t have to be alike.
Q: How did you get the idea for Rescue?
A: I came up with this story after reading about New York carriage horses, and the people who want to ban them from the city. What many people don’t realize is that city carriage horses get very good care. They aren’t allowed to work in heat, cold, or icy conditions, or go faster than a walk, and they get five weeks of vacation in the country every year. My dad, a truck driver, had to work for many years before he got five weeks of vacation! I wanted to write about a situation like that, where a well-meaning person tries to rescue animals that don’t need rescuing, and actually causes them harm. But I wanted to set it in Vermont, where I know my way around. What if a girl who was an animal rights activist moved in next door to a farm girl? And what if an old man down the road had a work horse that the activist thought was being abused? As soon as that old man turned into Mrs. Abernathy, and the work horse turned into a pair of minis, the story took off.
Q: Why do you write about horses so much?
A: I love them. Horses are powerful and fast. They can cause trouble incredibly quickly, and trouble is great for stories. Horses are also beautiful and sensitive, and opinionated, and funny. They don’t want the same things we want, they have totally different priorities—and yet we can have such a deep partnership with them. It’s a paradox that has always interested me. I’ve written and thought about horses my whole life, and I feel like I’m only just getting started.
Q: Chess is a vegan, and her mom decides to become a vegetarian, eating cheese and eggs. Joni eats everything, including meat. What do you eat, and why?
A: I’m like Joni. I was brought up on a farm with cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens that I got to know, and later ate. That isn’t simple. I love animals, and if I had to kill one myself I would definitely be a vegetarian. But I love the taste of meat, especially bacon. I also know that grazing animals are good for the planet. Animals eating grass built carbon into the soil in ancient times. When we started plowing the land and burning fossil fuels, we started putting that carbon into the atmosphere, where it heats the planet and causes intense storms. We can put that carbon back where it belongs by keeping animals on pasture. Like Dad says, “This is how we eat the grass.” But I wrestle with the ethics of it. Some days I think Chess is right. That helped me take both sides as I was writing the story—because that’s where I am in real life. Right in the middle.
Q: What is a writing day like for you?
A: In summer I get up early, drink some coffee, and go down to the farm (next door to my cabin in the woods) where I ride my horses. Then I fool around on the Internet a bit, come home to drink tea and read The New York Times, maybe take a cat for a walk on a leash, and eventually get to my desk. Taking cats for walks is a great time to let a story or poem start talking to me. After a bit, I’ll realize I’m actually writing but I don’t have any paper or pencil, and it’s time to get to the desk.
In winter I get up early, drink coffee, go feed the horses, drink tea, read the Times, and get to my desk a lot earlier...
Q: Tell us about your horses.
A: I’m glad you asked! I have two Morgan mares. Robin is small—only 14 hands, which makes her technically a pony. She would like to be the boss, and is very good at menacing faces. In spite of years of training, she still threatens to bite and kick while being saddled. But once I’m on her, she’s an angel most of the time. She is very smart and really very sweet, deep down. I love to kiss her nose!
Martha V. is a retired broodmare from Kansas. She is the first horse I’ve had since Scamper who was trained by someone else. She’s also been a mom, so she knows more than I do about pretty much everything. She puts her own halter on: all I have to do is hold it up in front of her. Same with a bridle. I’d been “training” her, assuming that she didn’t know a lot about riding, but then I noticed how good she was at weight aids (which Mrs. Abernathy teaches Joni about). Had she been trained to be ridden Western? (She’s from Kansas. Duh!) Turns out, she can be ridden mostly with seat aids and, as usual, knows more about Western riding than I do. Luckily, she is an incredibly patient horse. I adore both these mares and could go on and on about them. I also care for my mom’s Belgian, Zeke, a blonde mountain of a horse with the tiniest kitten-like whinny. He’s adorable, too.