Looking for a perfect beach read? Then you've come to the right place. We've collected four books that are a must read for all equestrians this summer.
1. Horse Crazy: The Story of a Woman and a World in Love with an Animal
New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir takes the reader around the world (like the title suggests!) and then right back to her own personal story of love of horses. She moves back and forth between her own life and the lives of the horses and riders she chronicles, which means the reader grows to feel an intimacy with Nir herself as the journey progresses. She’s a beautiful writer, there’s no question about that, but what really holds you is her honesty. It’s the perfect summer time read because you can read a bit here and there, and easily pick up where you left off if you need to put it down. But it’s not “feel good” in the sense of being saccharine; Nir doesn’t sugar coat her story or anyone else’s.
When we chatted in early June, instead of asking her to pick a favorite narrative (that would be impossible), I wanted to know what she thought was the most important part of her book for the summer of 2020. She answered right away: “The Swamper chapter chronicling black cowboys’ efforts to reinstate the black cowboy into our American origin narrative, from which they were wrongfully erased by the same forces erasing literal black lives today.” Nir continues, “Although that is only one section of the book, it is part of a larger story of how horses and humans have shaped this country and our identity, which throughout Horse Crazy I explore and celebrate.”
2. Compton Cowboys
“I always wondered why I never learned about black cowboys in any of my elementary school classes…” The opening line of the prologue of The Compton Cowboys: The New Generation of Cowboys in America’s Urban Heartland poses a question that many of us echo right now. The dominating narrative of the American “cowboy” has been white and male. The lives of those who don’t fall into that category have been mostly excluded from our history textbooks and popular movies. In The Compton Cowboys, author Walter Thompson-Hernández tells the stories of a group of young black men and women who learned to ride on a ranch in Compton’s Richland Farms. Now adults, they ride together through the streets of their hometown. Their motto: “Streets raised us. Horses saved us.”
Thompson-Hernández gives the reader a glimpse into the cowboys’ lives, highlighting stories that connect to both their community and their horses. It affirms the importance of the public rides in their neighborhood, because representation and visibility matter, while also giving the reader a look into the private lives of the men and women who work and love and fight for their horses, for each other and for their own lives. It’s long past time for their stories to be told. If you are looking for a gift for a younger reader in your life, consider The Compton Cowboys and the Fight to Save Their Horse Ranch, which is geared toward readers around 8-12 years old.
3. Horse Crazy: Girls and the Lives of Horses
Unlike our #1 pick with a similar title, this one isn’t exactly your typical summer beach read material. In Horse Crazy, sociology professor Jean Halley examines the relationships between girls and their horses using the frameworks of Michel Foucault’s concepts of normalization and biopower. No idea what that means? Don’t let that scare you away from picking this one up. While some parts do get technical, she interweaves her own personal experience to flesh out and illustrate her theories. Halley says, “In Horse Crazy: Girls and the Lives of Horses, I show that horse crazy girls experience girlhood in a unique and empowering way, based on their relationships with horses. Most of the book (aside from parts of the introduction) is written in non-scholarly, everyday language. As a horse crazy girl myself, I wrote the book with horse crazy girls, and others who love horses, in mind.”
Recommended by fellow horse girl Soledad O’Brien, this book is an interesting read for those of us who have often wondered, Why am I like this? Halley doesn’t claim to have the answer to that question, but she certainly gives us a lot to think about. She puts into words what so many have experienced: “The horses in their lives helped them to learn, challenged their shut-downess, pushed them to face their feelings, made them more self-aware and other-aware, and made them better riders and better human beings.”
4. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
Wait, what? How is this one related to horses? It’s not exactly, but it still has a ton of great ideas that any rider will find applicable. In An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield talks about the life lessons he’s learned throughout the process of traveling to space and back. If you aren’t interested in the nuts and bolts of astronaut life (although, tbh, the explanation of peeing in space is pretty fascinating), there might be parts of this book you don’t find very compelling. But the insights Hadfield sprinkles throughout his story make it worth the read. Eventer Sinead Halpin agrees, “Both the astronaut and rider have fairly unusual jobs which require us to work daily on training, predicting and learning the possible variables that could affect how well we do our job. But there’s also an element of knowing there will be variables that surprise us, and we need to be prepared for those surprises. Reading this book made me sweat the small stuff to be prepared for any opportunity.”
Two things Hadfield focuses on that every aspiring equestrian can relate to: the absolute necessity of paying attention to every detail and the importance of enjoying the journey. According to Hadfield, “Success is feeling good about the work you do throughout the long, unheralded journey that may or may not wind up at the launch pad. You can’t view training solely as a stepping stone to something loftier. It’s got to be an end in itself.” In a sport where a win can come down to a matter of seconds, things can go sideways no matter how we prepare and very few end up on a podium, this is a lesson we should all take to heart.
Feature image courtesy of the Compton Cowboys.
Written by Cheryl Witty-Castillo
Cheryl is a former competitive figure skater turned book nerd and equestrian sport junkie. She views the written word and photography as an intimate conversation with the power to both tell an individual's story and unite a community with a shared passion. When she isn't writing or teaching, Cheryl loves spending time at home with her babies and their various furry rescue pets and carnivorous plants.