It is a hot, dusty Saturday in May, and I’m standing in front of an empty corral, cold beer in hand, the fleshy smoke from branding burning my eyes. My shoulders are sunburned, despite cumulative layers of sunscreen and dust. We’ve just “worked” – vaccinated, castrated, and branded, as needed – 300 head of cattle. We’ve sorted them back into cow-calf pairs and driven them to grassland pasture where they will fatten over the summer. Dozens of neighbors, friends, and family sit around the chute, celebrating a hard day’s work.
My mother’s cousin Jeff calls to me from across the yard. Not unexpectedly, his skilled horsemanship helped him gain favored status in my father’s eyes in the fifteen years since I left home.
“C’mon, let’s go for a quick ride. Cool these ol’ gals down,” he says as I limp toward him. I’ve only been sitting for ten minutes, and already I’m starting to stiffen up. He tries to hand me the reins of his old sorrel mare.
I lift my hands in defense, backing away. “Oh, no. Not me, Jeff. I don’t ride horses.”
“You grew up on a farm, and you don’t ride? What the hell is wrong with you?” he asks.
I raise my eyebrows. “You’ve never heard of my infamous horse grudge with dad?”
The author, her horse, and her father, circa 1978.
In her essay “Getting Back on the Horse,” writer Kara Gall uses a twenty-year “horse grudge” with her father to examine the heart of her relationship with her father. She is not alone in this theme. Writers Michele Scott and Kate St. Vincent Vogl also speak to their relationships with their fathers and how horses were at the very heart of those relationships.
Horses have captured women’s attention and intrigue for centuries. For many women, these strong but gentle creatures held their hearts long before any boyfriend, husband or baby ever did. The memory of desperately asking your parents for a pony, and posting pictures of shiny horses to your bedroom wall, is one many women share. But why?
In Why We Ride: Women Writers on the Horses in their Lives (Seal Press / May 2010 / ISBN-10: 1580052665; ISBN-13: 978-1580052665/ $15.95), educator, literary agent, author, and editor, Verna Dreisbach attempts to answer that question. Dreisbach has compiled 27 personal essays from various women writers about their horses—or their dreams of owning a horse. With a foreword by best-selling novelist Jane Smiley, the book includes personal narratives from women who rode as children, those who spent their girlhood years dreaming of owning a pony, and women who have made a lifelong hobby or career out of riding. Each story openly reveals how horses have made a difference—and an impact—in their lives.
If you’ve ever dreamt of that first horse, contributor Dee Ambrose-Stahl will assure you you’re not alone. Jacqueline Winspear suggests we all need to return to basics, and it’s her horse that reminds her to keep things simple. Writers Michele Scott, Kara Gall, and Kate St. Vincent Vogl all speak to their relationships with their fathers and how horses were at the very heart of those relationships. Valerie Riggs, Janice Newton, and Samantha Ducloux Waltz discovered their horses held insight into their marital relationships. Why We Ride shares the enduring and personal experiences these women have had with horses, and is the perfect read for any woman who has ever held a special place in her heart for a horse.
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