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Horse tales: Valley woman's ‘Smokey’ storybook sets an example for children

Author Julie Harris’ real horse Smokey was the inspiration for the story of the “One-Eyed Horse in a One-Horse Town.”  - Courtesy image
Author Julie Harris’ real horse Smokey was the inspiration for the story of the “One-Eyed Horse in a One-Horse Town.”
— image credit: Courtesy image

When Julie Harris realized her horse was going blind, she didn’t know what to do. Smokey had been a beloved family member for years on her Snoqualmie farm, but she worried that she couldn’t keep him safe if he lost his eyesight completely.

Putting him down was not an option, but neither was keeping him in the barn all day.

“We still wanted him to have his freedom,” she said.

It was a big problem, and Smokey helped to solve it.

The horse proved to be resilient, and he quickly adapted to his condition. He’d lost vision in only one eye, and could see well enough to find the pasture on his own. Getting back into the barn was more difficult.

“He could make out that it was a barn, but he couldn’t get into it,” Harris said.

After some thought, she and her son decided to try music, a way for Smokey to use his ears instead of his eyes to find his way home for supper. With a radio playing in his stall day and night, Smokey was able to get around all by himself, and he did it while dancing.

“To compensate for his blindness, he would tilt his head, so he could see with the good eye,” Harris said, “and because he didn’t know quite where his feet were, he stepped a little higher. It really did look like he was dancing!”

Smokey lived for another year following this routine. Family members would ride him in the pasture, and friends came over to see his dance.

Harris recalled that “Oh boy, when you would ride him, he would puff up with pride! He never thought he was lacking, he never thought he was differently-abled.”

That spirit, that attitude, is the inspiration for Harris’ new book, “A One-Eyed Horse in a One-Horse Town.” It’s Smokey’s story, with a few embellishments for dramatic effect, and charming watercolor illustrations, but it’s also the story of any child who has a problem to overcome.

“I really wanted the focus to be on the horse, solving his problem,” Harris said. A child might identify with this lovable horse, and take a lesson about solving his or her own problems, she added.

Harris has written several children’s books, and is in the process of publishing one through Orchard House Press. For “One-Eyed Horse,” she chose another route.

“I wanted to self-publish this one, because it really was special,” she explained.

Working through Amazon, she was able to find illustrator Bonnie Lemaire. The two never met, but Lemaire was able to create exactly what Harris wanted, right down to the dancing pigs and melodramatic chickens.

“We do have six very bossy chickens, and they were the inspiration for the drawings,” Harris said.

However, the villainous neighbor in the book is pure fiction. “Our neighbors are wonderful!” she said.

“A One-Eyed Horse in a One-Horse Town” is available on Amazon.com, and will be available at local stores later this year.

For more information, visit Amazon.com.

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