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FOR THE KIDS : 'Little Freddie' Teaches From the Horse's Mouth : Author of children's books will sign copies at a Ventura store with the equine model for her stories at her side.

June 22, 1995|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Kathryn Cocquyt of Simi Valley wrote the kids' book "Little Freddie at the Kentucky Derby," she modeled the indomitable race horse after her own Little Freddie.

Now she's written a sequel, "Little Freddie's Legacy." She'll be at Ventura's Barnes & Noble bookstore Sunday signing copies--and Freddie will be right there at her side in the parking lot.

The 8-year-old chestnut gelding is used to the fanfare. Cocquyt trots him around to local schools, or students visit him at Ellen Acres Ranch in Moorpark, where he boards.

"He's a very extroverted horse," said Cocquyt, 35, who goes by Katie. "He genuinely loves children." She calls him a "beer-and-potato-chip" kind of horse.

Cocquyt, an exuberant horse lover, seems to understand these creatures inside and out. When she wrote "Little Freddie at the Kentucky Derby," she took an unconventional approach--she told it from the horse's point of view. So Freddie, his mother and all his horse pals and rivals have speaking parts.

She received 23 rejections before Pelican Publishing Co. published the 124-page book in 1992.

"These kinds of books were not selling," Cocquyt said. "Anthropomorphic is out."

But the book sold--7,500 to date. It tells the story of Freddie, his close relationship with his mother, his love of speed and his drive to race at the Kentucky Derby. It's a tender, sentimental story.

In the sequel, Freddie falls in love with the beautiful blind mare Rosie and sires a filly named Baroness. With the love of a young girl named Tiffany, the filly goes on to face many challenges before becoming a racing champion. Published last year by Pelican, the 152-page hardback sells for $13.95.

As a kid, Cocquyt never owned a horse, although she has ridden since the age of 4. Lessons were too expensive, so she'd recycle bottles to afford renting horses by the hour.

About 10 years ago, her husband surprised her with a horse she named Mardi Gras. They began breeding and racing thoroughbreds, and she even spent three years as a stable hand at Santa Anita racetrack. She and her husband bought Romantic Myth, which was in foal with Freddie.

When Romantic Myth died, Cocquyt grieved. Writing the book was cathartic. In it, Romantic Myth becomes very ill--just as she did in real life--but she doesn't die.

Nor did Freddie ever run in the Kentucky Derby like his fictional counterpart. He comes from an impressive line, though. His grandfather was Northern Dancer, which clocked the second-fastest time ever at the Kentucky Derby.

"He's a very smart horse," Cocquyt said, "but he's mischievous and easily bored."

Freddie and Cocquyt have had their share of personal hurdles. Last year, Freddie nearly died of a rare disease, equine protozoan myelitis. He had seizures, lost weight and was "wasting away," Cocquyt said. But antibiotics saved him.

"He's jumping--he's back," she said.

Cocquyt was in a car accident three years ago, and suffered back and leg injuries. It was doubtful that she'd ride again. But she's back too, although one leg is numb most of the time.

She doesn't write just for children. "Celtic Heart," a 600-page historical novel that takes place in the 1st Century, hit the bookstores last year.

When she's not writing or riding, she fits in visits to schools to talk to students about Freddie, horse racing and achieving goals. In the last three years, she's been to about 65 schools, including inner-city schools where some kids have never had an up-close look at a horse.

She tells them to be like Freddie: "Your dream needs to be alive for you. Don't get talked out of your dreams."

Details

* WHAT: Book signing by author Kathryn Cocquyt and personal appearance by Freddie of "Little Freddie at the Kentucky Derby" and "Little Freddie's Legacy."

* WHEN: 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday.

* WHERE: Barnes & Noble, 4360 E. Main St., Ventura.

* HOW MUCH: Free.

* CALL: 399-9170.

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