LIVERMORE -- Local resident Liz Hendrix found her calling early in life.

"I was horse-crazy for as long as I can remember," said Hendrix, who grew up in Lexington, Mass. "Nobody in my family rode, but I can remember as a little girl making pretend horses out of willow branches and twine and riding them around the house."

Her mother gave her riding lessons for her 10th birthday and Hendrix -- who turned 40 last month -- didn't look back. Her parents didn't have a lot of money, so she worked long hours after school in a barn and exercised other owners' horses to pay for her lessons.

The hard work paid off. By the time she finished high school, Hendrix was competing in horse-jumping contests and training in dressage. In 2000, she finished in the top 20 equestrians who tried out for the U.S. Olympic dressage team.

Children’s book author Liz Hendrix, of Livermore, holds her new book "Angel and Evie, Catching a Unicorn,"  while standing next to a horse
Children's book author Liz Hendrix, of Livermore, holds her new book "Angel and Evie, Catching a Unicorn," while standing next to a horse named "Wizard" at a horse stable in Livermore, Calif., on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. Hendrix not only wrote the book but she also drew the illustrations. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

It's not surprising then that Hendrix's first book, "Angel and Evie -- Catching a Unicorn," a children's book with beautiful illustrations by Hendrix, centers around a mythical horse.

Hendrix, who trains horses and gives dressage lessons at Greenville Equestrian Center in Livermore, said she wrote and illustrated the book not only for her love of art and writing but because it was therapeutic.

"In 2010, while I was working 12-hour days at Greenville, I came down with Bell's palsy, which paralyzed the whole left side of my face and was extremely painful," said Hendrix. "My left eye wouldn't close, so I had to tape it closed at night to sleep. At work, I wore motorcycle goggles to protect my eye, as I couldn't blink."

The illness -- which Hendrix's doctors believe was triggered by a virus in her inner ear -- began to subside after three months. However, it left Hendrix with painful neuralgia, which afflicts the left side of her head, face and neck.

"The nerves react to even a light touch as pain," said Hendrix. "A breeze, wind, air conditioning -- even the touch of my bangs -- triggers the pain. I describe it as an intense 'ice cream' headache."

Although she loved art in high school and dabbled in sketching and painting, Hendrix didn't originally set out to publish a book. She said that during the early stages of her illness, she cut back on work and slept a lot because when she slept, she didn't feel pain. Hendrix recalls that at the onset of her illness her mother reminded her that when she had mononucleosis as a teen she also turned to art.

"I was stuck in the house for three weeks, and my mom gave me a sketch book," said Hendrix. "She says I just drew and drew -- it was my outlet when I couldn't ride horses."

It was when she was first afflicted with Bell's palsy that Hendrix woke up one morning with the story of Angel and Evie in her head.

"My first intention was to create a little book that I could give to my daughter and friends for Christmas," said Hendrix. "It was a distraction. I found I could work for hours on the illustrations with minimal pain."

A friend who is a professional book illustrator encouraged Hendrix to take her time with the illustrations and shoot to get the book published. The whimsical tale tells of a little girl called Evie who is looking for a unicorn and of Angel the unicorn, who wants to befriend a little girl. All their friends are skeptical and don't believe Evie and Angel's wishes will come true. But in a magical world anything can happen.

Hendrix, who moved to California when she was 21, settled in Livermore in 2000. She's been married to husband Nathan, a paramedic in Richmond, for 13 years, and they have a daughter, Evelyn, in second grade. Of course, there are plenty of pets in the family.

"We have three dogs, four chickens, two rats, a lizard, fish -- and a wonderful horse called Wizard," said Hendrix. "I drew all of my pets, minus the fish, on the back cover of my book."

Although Hendrix has cut back on her schedule at the equestrian center -- she's learned that working too much triggers the neuralgia -- she's "committed to being a happy person. ... I want to go home and be happy for my family and my daughter," said Hendrix. "I want to have the energy to read books to her."

She says her doctors don't know if the neuralgia will ever go away. For now, she's excited about the publication of her first book.

"It was a fun path to walk down, and I'm happy and excited about what I created," said Hendrix. "To be able to spend half my time at the barn and half my time creating art is awesome."

IF YOU GO
Liz Hendrix will sign her book and do horse drawing demonstrations in Livermore from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at Woopsiedaisy Toy Shop, 154 S. J St. and from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 14 at Cooleykatz Toys, 1959 Second St. You can also meet her and the horses with Saddle2Ride from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 15 at Greenville Equestrian Center, 4180 Greenville Road in Livermore. There will be a book signing, horse drawing demonstrations and information on how to get started riding for children and adults. All events are free. For details, visit www.AngelAndEvie.com. Order books at
http://angelandevie.aliveeastbay.com.