This wonderful book is the poignant memoir of a woman who rescues a maltreated horse, and discovers that this amazing horse ends up rescuing her. Chosen By a Horse: How a Broken Horse Fixed a Broken Heart by Susan Richards (NYC: Harvest; 2006) is the amusing and touching true story about the author’s decision to take in a starved and abused standardbred broodmare that was part of a group of 42 racehorses rescued by the local SPCA. At first, Richards chose a horse from a list based on her name but then, when she and the animal control officer went into the muddy paddock to fetch that animal, they quickly discover that simply finding this particular horse in the suspicious, milling crowd will be a difficult and time-consuming task. After a moment of indecision, Richards says “I’ll take anyone.” So a few minutes later, one horse, a lame and very ill (with pneumonia) bay mare, Lay Me Down, and her young but very hostile foal walk up the ramp and step into her waiting trailer and into Richards’ life.
While reading this engaging and refreshingly honest book, it becomes apparent that Richards is no stranger to sadness and trouble: she lost her mother to cancer when she was five years old, and was then farmed out to a series of uncaring relatives to raise. After surviving a marriage to an abusive man and her own battle with the bottle, Richards divorces. She then regains custody of her beloved morgan mare, Georgia, adds two older quarter horse companions, Tempo and Hotshot, to the group and settles in on a farm in New York state where she lives with her animals.
But then, in a moment of kindness, Richards decides to add a new horse to the group. When Lay Me Down arrives, Georgia is predictably furious, although Richards writes; “I blamed myself for creating a monster, a monster named Georgia. All these years of spoiling her, of never allowing anyone else to ride her, of letting her boss me around….” The reserved Tempo is only mildly interested, while Hotshot is enamored and charmed, and appoints himself to be the new arrival’s companion and protector. Even though Richards clearly loves her horses, and it was Georgia in fact, who provided the impetus for the author to stop drinking altogether, it is the newcomer, Lay Me Down, whose quiet courage and open affection for Richards, a stranger to her, who ultimately heals Richards’ broken heart.
In addition to Richards’s horses, this beautifully-written book will introduce you to a rich and memorable cast of lovable characters; her amazing friend, Allie, who seems to be part horse whisperer and part witch and whose reaction to any abused animal is “Let’s steal her”; Hank, who specializes in paving over large parts of America with shopping malls and whom Richards almost has a love affair with; her patient and kind veterinarian, Dr. Grice; and her happily married brother and his family. Besides describing everyday life with a small herd of horses, this book is, in turn, humorous and sad (but never maudlin), as it describes the magic and healing power of unexpected love along with the inevitability of loss, aging and death, and the tribulations of shopping for lacy underwear at Victoria’s Secret.
So well-written is this book that it impossible to believe this is Richards’ first — and I fervently hope it isn’t her last! Even though this book is 248 pages long, you will devour it in a heartbeat, and after you’ve finished, you will wish you could read it again for the first time. More than just a “horse story”, this book is so affecting that, days after I’ve finished reading it, I still catch myself wondering how Richards and Allie and Georgia and Hotshot are doing, and wondering who is that fourth horse that Richards now lives with — did she manage to track down Lay Me Down’s last foal? I highly recommend this tightly-written and humorous book to anyone who loves horses, to anyone who wants to study how an excellent memoir is written and to anyone who has loved and lost and found strength and redemption in that loss.
Susan Richards has a BA in English from the University of Colorado and a Master’s in Social Work from Adelphi University. She lives in Olivebridge, New York, with three dogs, two cats, and four horses, and teaches writing at SUNY Ulster and Marist College. Susan Richards’ webpage.