In her young adult novel Raja: Story of a Racehorse, Anne Hambleton tells the story of what might happen to a horse who can’t race any longer. We follow Raja, beautifully bred horse and owned by a sheikh, from his days as a foal on a luxurious farm to the racetrack, to the places in which he finds himself when his brief racing career comes to an end. The story is told from Raja’s point of view.
Hambleton grew up in the mid-Atlantic and has been riding horses, she said, “her whole life.” She started out with pony club and eventing and went on to be a “very keen” event rider in college. Deciding against a career as a professional horsewoman, became a sustainability and renewable energy consultant, traveling and, for a time, not riding at all.
At age 30, she was pulled back to horses, beginning a career as a steeplechaser on weekends. “I thought, ‘I’ll start galloping because it looks like fun,’” she said. “Then you think, ‘I want to ride in a race,’ and then you get obsessed with it.
“It’s pretty much the most fun thing.”
Hambleton rode at hunt meets in Maryland and Virginia, including the Hunt Cup and Gold Cup, retiring a few years ago. She lives in Vermont with five ex-steeplechase horses, whom she describes as “nice, well-bred horses with some dings,” and one winter morning, in her barn with them, she though, “’Golly, what are you guys doing here?’”
“A lot of stories come with those horses,” she said, “because steeplechase is often a second career for them.
“I thought, ‘Somebody needs to write a modern day Black Beauty.’ The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t believe that no one had done it. So many racehorses go on and do so many things, and there are so many sad stories about horses slipping through the cracks.”
Hambleton had never written fiction, so as she drafted, she went back to the classics she had loved, by Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry, and she sought feedback from the people she wanted to read her book: young girls who love horses.
“There are a lot of kids in my orbit in the horse world: kids that ride, kids of my friends that show. About 30 kids read different drafts of the book, and they gave me great feedback. They told me, for example, that the beginning needed a little more excitement.”
Although the protagonist of Hambleton’s novel is a Thoroughbred, her involvement in flat racing has been minimal.
“I’ve never done it in any professional capacity,” she said, “but I’m totally in love with Thoroughbreds as performance horses.
“I didn’t write Raja with an agenda of promoting second careers for Thoroughbreds; I wanted to write a fun story that could educate kids to some of the realities in the horse world, and I became a little bit of a cheerleader for Thoroughbreds.”
Raja won the IPPY bronze medalist for juvenile fiction and was a finalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award for Young Readers (fiction, ages 8-12).
This Saturday, Hambleton will be selling and signing copies of the novel at the community outreach booth near the silks room at Saratoga Race Course from noon to 4:00; 20% of all sales will go to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
On Wednesday, August 1, Hambleton will be at the National Museum of Racing, signing books from 10 am – 2 pm.
Raja is available at the book’s website (definitely worth checking out for more information about the book and the horses in it), at Amazon, and in local bookstores.