Friday, April 1, 2011

Catch "Cowboy Fever" - and Help Kids With Autism

by Joanne Kennedy

Today is the day! April 1st is the official release date for Cowboy Fever.

I love all my books. Saying one is better than the other is like picking a favorite child -- you just can't do it. Each one has its unique traits and holds a special place in your heart. But I have to admit that Cowboy Fever is that special, overachieving child who's especially easy to love.

For one thing, Teague Treadwell is my sexiest hero yet. He's determined to be a better man than his alcoholic father, but his tendency to solve his problems with his fists made him the town bad boy. He's done his best to step out of the shadow of his bad reputation and make himself worthy of the town's golden girl, but small town labels tend to stick.

And then there's Jodi Brand, the quintessential cowgirl. A former rodeo queen, she's trying to reinvent herself too - but while Teague is trying to polish his image, she's doing her best to dull hers down. All she wants is to be herself, but when she needs to raise funds for her therapy riding program, she discovers she'll have better luck if she lives up to her hometown's high expectations and brings back her old sparkle.

That riding program is the third reason I love this book. A few years ago, a friend asked me to help at her daughter's riding session at Cheyenne Therapeutic Riding Center (CTEC). Her daughter has autism, and they needed someone to walk alongside the horse and keep her safe.

I've seen that little girl smile, but I've never seen her light up like she did when she sat in that saddle. Horseback riding is a genuine miracle for kids with autism. Their world is a confusing, overwhelming place, and horses carry them up and away from their bewildering reality.

Language and communication are often a mystery to people with autism, and social cues are learned rather than instinctive. But the signals that communicate with horses are much less complex than the ones we use in human relationships. A gentle tap of the heels, a softly spoken "walk on," or a tug on the reins is all it takes to make CTEC's calm, obedient horses perform.

It's also difficult for kids with autism to focus. Often their sensory systems have no filter; the whistle of a distant train demands as much of their attention as a person speaking to them, and light and motion can be overwhelming. Something about riding seems to lift them above the confusion. Maybe it's the excitement of being on board such a large animal, or maybe it's simply the view from above, but it makes a tremendous difference in their ability to learn.

It's also easy for the kids to bond with horses. The world of a child with autism is often a frightening place, and horses know about fear. They're flight animals, programmed to run at any perceived threat. Temple Grandin, a respected professor of animal science who overcame the challenges of autism, feels that this is the key to the magic that happens between kids and horses.

When I first heard about CTEC, I thought riding was a recreational activity for the kids, but it's much, much more. When you see a child who rarely expresses affection nuzzle a horse and whisper in its ear, or see a normally fearful child take the reins with confidence, you realize that this is something special. The two kids pictured in this post are students in our program, and say more than I ever could about the importance of this program.

That's why the celebration of the release of Cowboy Fever will include a Barnes & Noble book fair to benefit CTEC. And even if you don't live in Cheyenne, you can help! A portion of your online Barnes & Noble purchase will go to CTEC if you enter the code 10442713 at checkout.

It's a great time to stock up on those Sourcebooks releases you've been meaning to buy! Here's a shopping list to get you started -- all in keeping with our cowboy theme:

Happy shopping - and don't forget to enter the code!

Do you have a volunteer program that's enriched your life? Tell us about it in the comments!

A Special Announcement:

I really wanted this post to be about the kids and the riding program--but I have to mention my exciting news. Last week I found out that my second book, One Fine Cowboy, was nominated for Romance Writers of America's RITA award for Best Single Title Contemporary Romance. This puts me on a list with Nora Roberts, Rachel Gibson, Susan Donovan, and several of my other favorite writers, so I'm absolutely thrilled by the honor, and so grateful to the judges and RWA leaders who make the RITA happen!


  1. Great post, Joanne! Congrats on the Rita final!

  2. We have an autism group meet at our library and I was helping one of the boys with locating books. It's amazing how much better he's able to focus in the two years I've known him. It's wonderful to have a riding program for them. Good luck on the Rita final! All fingers crossed it will be a win!

  3. Happy release day and congrats on finaling in the Rita. This was a great post. My daughter just started riding, serious riding. I don't know a lot about horses, but it's astonishing at how responsive they are and how just the slightest change of position controls the horse.

  4. Joanne - Congrats on the release of COWBOY FEVER!!! I love the premise for your book, wonderful post! Thank you for bringing the CTEC to my attention. It sounds like a wonderful program. How rewarding to be a part of it. I'm delighted to shop at B&N and make sure my donation gets there.

    While not quite the same as the volunteer work you're doing, when our kids were in Grade School and Middle School I was a Daisy leader, and Brownie leader, class mom, PTO treasurer, and soccer coach. I wouldn't trade that precious time spent with our kids, their friends and classmates for anything.

    Mega-congrats for the RITA nomination for Best Single Title Contemporary Romance! I'll be at RWA in the Sourcebooks cheering section hootin' & hollerin' for you!!!

    A special thank you, Joanne, for including me in with your book and Carolyn's. Cowboy heroes are seriously HOT!

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  6. CONGRATULATIONS, Joanne! On the launch and on your RITA nomination. Life is grand! And good luck at the finals. I'll be the short gray haired loud mouth in the back rootin' and carryin' on so loud that those men in suits with earbuds threaten to have me tossed out on my fanny when you get the trophy!

    I had the privilege of reading Cowboy Fever before it was in print and let me tell y'all, it's pretty awesome. Teague is a FINE cowboy!

    Many years ago, in one of my multitude of jobs, I worked as a teacher's aid in Terral, Oklahoma. My job as a reading teacher's aid put me one on one with an autistic boy for an hour a day. It was an experience I'll never forget and I'm not sure which one of us got an education. I think it might have been me!

    Thank you, thank you for mentioning Love Drunk Cowboy in your blog today!
    (NOTE: the deleted comment was mine. I should not type before coffee.)

  7. Thanks, Cheryl! And Terry, it really is amazing to watch kids with autism learn and grow. There are much better and effective treatments available these days.

  8. Best of luck to your daughter, Anita! I think riding is so, so good for kids, especially girls. How old is your daughter, and is she learning English or Western?

  9. Colleen, I think any kind of volunteering with kids is important. It sounds like you've always been an overachiever! Thanks for the congrats - I'm so glad you'll be there.

  10. What a fantastic post! I forwarded the info to my aunt who lives near there. Congrats again on your RITA nom! Super excited for you :)

  11. Carolyn, I'm So glad you're going to be there to distract the men in suits while I sneak up to the podium and steal the trophy...
    And I agree - working with kids with autism is an eye-opening experience for anyone.
    Now gulp down that coffee and get to work on another cowboy story! I know you've got some hot hero in chaps just waiting to be set loose.

  12. Joanne,
    Congratulations on the launch of Cowboy Fever! I love cowboys and especially bad boy cowboy.And once again congrats on the RITA nod. Well-deserved!
    You are obviously a very special person for doing the work you do for in helping these very loving children. My cowgirl's hat is off to you.

  13. Happy release day! Congrats on the RITA nomination! And wow, what a great program you are sponsering here. My grandmother's horseranch has a program like this. My cousin-in-law runs it. It really benefits the special needs children in the program. Kudos to you, Joanne! And good luck with the new release!

  14. Congrats on the Rita nom. I think it's so cool that a portion of the proceeds go to the riding program. I'm going to enter that code right now...

  15. Amelia, thanks! I don't do nearly enough - there are people there who really devote their lives to the kids and they're the ones who deserve kudos!

  16. Thanks, Olivia, and congratulations to you on Rock Hard!!! Love your cover!

  17. Great post and congrats on your Rita final! I think this is a wonderful thing they are doing for the kids.

  18. Sara, thanks for sending on the info - be sure to tell her to introduce herself if she can come to the book launch!

  19. Thank you, Virginia! It is great for the kids - and to make it even better, they use rescued and older horses in a lot of cases.

  20. Congrats on your RITA nomination, Joanne! An outstanding achievement, and well deserved.