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Originally published Monday, January 23, 2012 at 5:00 AM

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Lit Life

Author Jana Harris talks horse sense

A Q&A with Jana Harris, whose book "Horses Never Lie About Love" recounts her 25-year relationship with a horse named True Colors.

Seattle Times book editor

Author appearance

Jana Harris

The author of "Horses Never Lie About Love" will discuss her book at 7 p.m. Thursday at the University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., Seattle; free (206-634-3400 or www.ubookstore.com).
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Last week, poet and author Jana Harris watched the snow falling on her farm in eastern Snohomish County and fretted about roof-crushing volumes of Cascade concrete. Keeping her company was True Colors, her friend of 25 years and the subject of Harris' new book "Horses Never Lie about Love: The Heartwarming Story of a Remarkable Horse Who Changed the World Around Her" (Free Press, 279 pp. $24).

Harris, who has won both a Washington State Governor's Writers Award (now the Washington State Book Award) and a Pushcart Prize, both writes and teaches poetry. In her new book she tries out the memoir, addressing a subject close to her heart — her life raising horses and her relationship with True Colors, a Thoroughbred brood mare with an extraordinarily stabilizing influence on both people and horses.

Harris' book is a vivid exposition of the rigors and heartache of raising horses, highly intuitive beasts with sensitive health, finicky appetites, modest intelligence and the power to maim, injure or even kill.

"Horses are both very powerful and very fragile," says Harris. She answered some questions about her life raising, breeding and selling horses:

Q: How many horses do you have now, and how is True Colors doing?

A: I have seven horses. True Colors turned 34 on Jan. 31 — she's outlived every horse I've ever known, and a lot of my friends. The horses all love her. They wonder where she is when they don't hear from her.

Q: Isn't 34 an extraordinarily long life for a horse?

A: The average horse lives about 20 years. True Colors has good genes, good survival skills and good confirmation (how a horse is built and put together). She has a good brain, and good common sense.

Q: How would you characterize a horse's intelligence? You write that they're highly intuitive, but not all that smart.

A: Horses are very good at reading your body language. They innately do not trust people. In the wild they were preyed upon; they have the instincts of animals that were hunted. The mountain lion dropping out of the tree, the dog about to come after them. They're always cautious — and they're huge, 10 times my weight. Sometimes it's hard to convince them to do something that's good for them.

Q: Why did you decide to breed horses, as opposed to just owning a couple?

A: It didn't occur to me in the very beginning ... I don't know, maybe because I'm not a quitter. ... I'm used to trying harder. I don't know if I had dyslexia, but I had a very hard time learning to read, particularly to spell. I couldn't copy words directly to the board. So the message wasn't diagnosing the problem, it was — try harder.

You know how your appetite is bigger than your mouth. I often think that I need another life to enjoy the life I've made for myself.

Q: What do readers say surprised them about your life with horses?

A: Well, they're surprised that True Colors is still alive. And just the endless marathon of work.

Q: I had friends who had horses when I was growing up, but I can't imagine owning one now — it seems to take massive amounts of money. Is everyone who rides independently wealthy?

A: Well, I'm not, but I have my own facility. I'm thrifty. I can do a lot of the work myself. We grow most of our own food (Harris' husband, Mark Bothwell, a researcher at the University of Washington, is her partner in the horse-raising operation).

It is very hard to have horses if you don't have money. Most of the cost is the boarding and the training. It's part of our evolving world — it's very difficult for middle-class people, people from the 99 percent, to have a horse, even one horse. That's a problem because a lot of kids don't ride today.

Q: You chronicle True Colors' distrust of humans in the book — her behavior made me think that before you bought her, she may have been abused.

A: It's hard to know what happened with her. Most of her (early) encounters with humans were not good. She's a Thoroughbred — they're not bred for their kindness and docility.

She's morphed from being untouchable to being the center of my life. I wanted to write about what it means to have a quarter-century relationship with someone 10 times your weight, warmer and taller and fuzzier than the people around you, who's so volatile it could end your life in a heartbeat. It encompasses the parental, the magical, the mystical. It's a relationship that's neither uncomplicated nor straightforward.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @gwinnma. Mary Ann Gwinn appears on Classical KING-FM's Arts Channel at www.king.org/pages/10057476.php

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