What Started It All
Or What Inspired Me to Become a Serious Author,
And the Award-Winning Piece That Shoved Me Over the Edge
Often people ask what inspired me to become a writer. Many authors just always “knew.”
I had always written just for fun. For myself. After all, novelists were those “other” folks who wrote the books I’d read. Hemingway, Faulkner, Doyle, Chandler, Grafton, Hollick. I wasn’t one of them. It didn’t matter that I’d written a novella at age 14. Longhand. On lined notebook paper. Eighty of those pages. I wrote because that’s just what I did as a fun hobby.
I was always the one who wrote the news articles for a club I belonged to. I wrote weekly or monthly columns for dog and horse magazines, earning a little bit of money that helped pay for horse shows. An occasional short story. But I never took myself seriously until, on a lark a few years ago, I entered a piece I’d written in a Writer’s Digest contest. Since I’d won several writing awards in high school, I thought it’d be fun to see what I might be able to do as an adult. Had I known there would be over 9500 entries and only twenty winners total, I would never have entered.
But I did enter.
And I won.
I won a Writer’s Digest prize, along with a coveted seal and a very nice-sized check.
It was then that I finally took myself seriously and said, “Why not?”
Why not write a novel? Granted, there’s a whole other story about that first novel and how the Langsford Series sprung from it. But this article I’m sharing today, this is what started it all and allowed me to believe in myself. It was my self-defining bit of writing.
Here it is, unchanged from the original:
Amanya Wasserman word count 1772
PO Box nnnn
Burbank CA nnnn
THERE ARE THREE OF US
There Are Three of Us
There are three of us leaning on the white board fence watching the horses play in the green California pasture. We are quiet, simply enjoying the moment.
There are three of us.
We watch as a yearling Trakehner colt breaks from his trot, digging in with his hind legs to take off at full gallop. He is lovely. His young muscles work hard under his bright chestnut coat. His eyes are shining, full of both joy and mischief. Equivalent to a teenage boy, he has energy, spirit and naughty written all over him. He is and will be, I know, a handful.
Close on his heels comes another colt, a few months older, dark brown-bay, bigger and in more of a show-off mood. He trots with huge strides, elevating each step high above the grass, tail up in the air and nose snorting. Between each step, he suspends himself midair before any hoof can touch down. He floats effortlessly past me. “Look at me,” he says. “I’m incredibly
cool.” Then he drops his head, kicks out with quick hind feet, and joins his half-brother in a full gallop.
“Those two are both by the stallion, Templeritter,” my host explains as he stands beside me at the fence line. We don’t look at each other. We are watching the horses. “What do you think?” Roy Fleischer is a little under six feet, wearing jeans and short paddock boots. He has a cowboy hat on along with a smile that shows how proud he is of his youngsters.
“I think I’m glad I don’t have to train them,” I laugh at the cavorting colts. “The bay is a good mover and strong. I’d figure him to be an excellent dressage prospect, but then, I’ll have to see him again at three years old.”
Gerta, who has been standing silent on my right this whole time, finally speaks up. “Right. I agree. A lot can happen in their growth over the next two years.” Visiting California from Germany, she speaks without any accent. She is much taller than either Roy or I, muscular and very self-assured. Dressed in her riding breeches and custom German boots, she appears even taller than she is.
The yearlings turn nearly in unison, then thunder back toward us. “But I do think that big guy has dressage in his future.”
We watch as the larger one spins on his heels.
“Fernando,” Roy turns to call over to his stableman who is standing by the white pasture gate. Halters and lead ropes drape over his arms. “Ponga por favor los potros atrás y saque la nueva yegua.” He asks Fernando to catch the teenagers and return them to their paddocks, then bring out the new horse; a mare this time.
We watch as the yearlings are led away. “Those are a couple of very nice youngsters.” Gerta absently brushes some hay from her shirt sleeve.
Roy beams at her. Her opinion means a lot to most of us Americans. Her grandfather had been a main groom at the famous Trakehnen Stud in Germany before World War II. Her family had always been involved with Trakehners, in one way or another.
Her father, at four years of age, had fled with many others from Germany in the infamous “Trek”, running from the Russians in the bitter winter of 1945. The story, well known among horse people, is one about the horses, not the people, and it is a heartbreaking one.
We know the number of horses and who they were. We don’t know much about the people themselves. Over eight hundred horses left the Prussian area of Trakehnen, which for over a century had always been part of a buffer zone between Germany, Poland and Russia. The people there, including Gerta’s family, were on the Nazi side of the last world war. They were Nazi Germans whose lives centered on the horses they bred, loved and cared for.
By the summer of 1944, it was clear that the Russians were going to break through the German lines. Many people in that area wanted to leave, but the German Army would arrest anyone leaving with their belongings and shoot them for treason. Finally, in January of 1945, the Trakehners had to be evacuated because the Russians had broken through the Prussian border and were fast approaching. The people in and around Trakehnen quickly gathered up their beloved horses, hitched them to wagons laden with belongings, loaded their backs with food, hay, and bundled-up children. They turned loose the young stock in the hopes they could survive on their own, for feed on the trip was in short supply. Once ready, they all, people and horses alike, rushed for the West, six hundred miles away, in an attempt to flee the invading Russian forces.
The most vivid scene described in a rare telling of “The Trek” is the one of the horses galloping over the frozen Baltic Sea; a frantic effort to get to West Germany and safety. The Russian planes were literally overhead, strafing the entire group as it ran across the ice. Russian troops fired from the shoreline. Many horses and people dropped as bullets tore through them. The dead and dying tumbled and slid over the ice, leaving a blood slick behind them. There was no cover out in the middle of the sea. If a horse or wagon slowed, its heavy weight broke through the ice, dragging the wagon, horse and all, into the freezing black depths. Those who were fast enough, raced over the cracking surface, leaving a trail of frantic hoof prints behind in the brittle and cracking ice.
People. Horses. All running for their lives. Nazi’s. Running. Galloping.
To this day, survivors cannot speak about it.
Of the eight hundred horses that began the six hundred mile Trek, fewer than one hundred made it to West Germany. We have no count of the people. While Gerta’s young father somehow survived along with his parents, her great grandparents and others in her family did not. None of their own beautiful Trakehners survived.
After the war, her family, what remained of it, stayed in Germany and began life anew. Gerta’s grandfather began working with horses again, ultimately finding some Trakehners scattered here and there. He helped to rebuild the breed, originally numbering over 250,000 head, from the few sorry survivors. Growing up at his father’s side, Gerta’s father learned to work with the horses, and later, his daughter, Gerta.
Even today, those of us who know the story of the “Trek,” don’t talk about it much. But we do know and respect the vast knowledge that someone like Gerta has. So when she makes a comment, it is highly valued.
Today, we lean on the white fence, marveling at these beautiful creatures, while basking in the California sunshine. I think of my own Trakehners on my ranch in the Sierra foothills, other descendants of that long ago farm. I feel grateful that we have these horses at all.
The stableman brings out an imported broodmare that is Roy’s new pride and joy. Hadice trots beside the short Hispanic groom, a big round 17h bay mare, with a heavy thick black mane and tail. In foal to a stallion named Windfall, she too, floats as she trots politely beside the man, eager to go faster, but staying at a mannered prance. We turn to watch her as she’s turned loose in the pasture.
It is amazing that all the Trakehners we have today have come from the few remaining survivor horses in West Germany. Like the Jews, their numbers severely dwindled, but they were strong enough to survive.
Gerta hangs on the fence to my right, Roy to my left. As if he were reading my mind, he starts talking about what a miracle it was that any of the horses survived the war. Gerta agrees. I nod.
“You know,” he continues, “My grandfather, Herman Fleischer, was a Captain in the US Army during the war. Afterward, he was assigned to help restructure the Deutsche Bank in Germany. It was fitting, because his grandfather had come from Germany.”
Gerta, quiet for a moment, replies. “My grandfather was a Nazi German who loved Trakehners.”
All of us keep watching the big bay mare canter around the pasture.
“My Jewish grandmother lived in a village about 60 km from Trakehnen.” I am almost whispering. “The entire village was destroyed early in the War.”
We watch the big bay mare as she circles, drops her head and bucks a little, her thick black mane tossing in the breeze. We are silent.
Gerta and I put our arms over each other’s shoulders. Simultaneously Roy extends his arm around mine; I do the same with him.
We three stand there in that special embrace, along that white fence here in California so far in time and place from history, watching a horse that represents to us a very special healing. A moving forward from the long ago events of an ugly world. A hope for “never again,” ever. A hope for a continuing better future. People. Trakehners. All living things.
We need not say more. We watch silently as the pregnant mare slows to a walk and begins grazing the green pasture in the California sunshine.
The German granddaughter of a Nazi, the Jewish granddaughter of a Prussian Jew, an American grandson of a G.I.
The three of us stand quietly at the white board fence.
 In the beginning of the 18th century, Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm I wanted a new type of cavalry mount for the Prussian army. War tactics had changed and he wanted a lighter, more comfortable horse with more endurance and speed than the heavy horses previously needed to carry an armored combatant. The king wanted horses for “his officers to ride, attractive enough to make them proud, solid enough to stay sound, with a comfortable, ground-covering trot that would enable them to travel quickly and efficiently.” So he chose the best horses from seven of his royal breeding farms, and in 1732 moved them all to the new royal stud at Trakehnen, beginning the Trakehner breed.
 Horses’ heights are measured in “hands”, symbolized by the lower case “h.” Each hand is four inches. The measurement is from the ground to the top of the back, just below the neck. A 17h horse stands 68” tall at that location, or five ft., 8 inches.
A.E. Wasserman currently has three historical mystery/thrillers in place, with two more in the works. She is a full time author, best known for her Langsford Series. www.aewasserman.com
|This is me with my Border Collie muse, Topper |
(he's in all my author photos)
and we are at the 8830 ft summit of Mt Pinos in
California's Los Padres National Forest.
It's our heaven.