The Year of the Horses isn't a trite story of an anxious, stressed-out woman who is saved by horses. It's a masterful pageant of loss, love, self-acceptance, joy and polo. Yes, polo. Polo ponies, polo playing and polo people. Aside from serving as both art and entertainment, Maum's horse book has already fostered much-needed conversations on mental health.
Love horse books? Check out my review of Crossing the Line (another polo memoir) here.
Synopsis of The Year of the Horses
Young Courtney literally receiving a pony with a bow on its neck for Christmas at the age of six. She names her pony who is "the color of rubbed leather and fresh straw with a wild lion mane" Fantasy.
Courtney's mother taxis her back and forth to the barn for lessons, shows, and time with Fantasy. The horse girl dream is a reality until a few years later, due to a major health crisis her brother endures, Courtney's mom tells her she needs to take a break from riding. Their barn commute is long and her brother's care requires doctor visits and close attention. Her parents divorce.
Instead of riding, a now-horseless Courtney focuses on writing. She grows up, goes to university, moves to France, meets a guy named Leo (I realize I'm skimming over the storyline here--that's because you need to read the book for yourself for the juicy details.
Courtney's exit from horses was so profound, during their first visit to her hometown in the U.S., Leo, now her fiancé, is shocked by Courtney's revelation: "I used to jump. I had a pony. I used to ride all the time."
Tangent: one of my favorite ponies of all time was Misty of Chincoteague. Did you read and love Marguerite Henry's books too? I love them so much I wrote my own book about it! Marguerite, Misty and Me: a Horse Girl's Hunt for the Hidden History of Marguerite Henry and her Pony.
Horses remain in Courtney's past in the early years of marriage and motherhood. Depression paired with sleeplessness overwhelm her. "Without sleep I have no boundaries I am not a writer mother wife, I am a blob, struggling through the hours with eyes that will not close." She trudges on doing all the things required of her.
One day, an enchanting whiff of barn aroma during an interview with a dressage rider begins the wooing back to horses. Courtney was writing a novel and one of the characters was a dressage devotee. The trip to the horse farm was for work purposes, at least that what it seems she told herself.
A video discovered after typing keywords into Google asking for something beautiful also nudges her back to horses. The search engine served up Blue Hors Matine, a stunning gray, piaffing and passaging across a Grand Prix dressage court. She wept and watched the spectacular on repeat. That led her back to the barn--a polo barn.
You might also enjoy my memoir, Horses Adored and Men Endured.
Favorite Passages from The Year of the Horses
I loved this quote: "I didn't want to rush to the next thing on my agenda, I only wanted to sit, and feel and be." Courtney's words resonate with me 100%! I think of time in the saddle as a trip to Narnia. My mom (who is not a rider, but loves horses and gets it) describes riding as a "mini vacation."
Two fascinating facts Courtney shares are that a horse's electromagnetic field is five times that of ours and can influence our own heartbeat (to slow it down), and pleasant contact between horse and human can stimulate the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is one of the "feel good" hormones. Scientific evidence proves horses make us feel better! Amen.
Also, I loved the way Courtney describes learning how to play polo. The descriptions were spot on! As someone who has dabbled in polo, I could totally relate to the awkwardness.
During an early game in her polo passion she felt like she was getting in people's way and wondering if they resented her as much as she resented herself. "The play was too fast, the angles too confusing."
A wake up call by an adolescent team member rang out, "Get your head back in the game." The same young player followed up with, "What are you doing? GO!"
When Courtney admitted, "I don't know what I'm doing," the sage response from the young girl struck me: "You just need to play."
Put this Equestrian Memoir in your Collection of Horse Books
The Year of the Horses is written in a way to be accessible and enjoyable for someone not yet horse-obsessed. I urge you to read this if you enjoy horse books, especially equestrian memoir.
I've written dozens of horse book review blogs posts on saddleseekshorse.com Take a peek!