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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
Chosen by a Horse - Susan Richards Is it just me, or are Friesians now the only horses who are allowed in movies or to grace book covers? The titular horse in Chosen by a Horse is a Standardbred. The horse on the cover, though lovely with its long mane and forelock, is a Friesian. (Or maybe a very dark Andalusian, it's hard to tell.) I guess Standardbreds aren't showy enough for book covers.

Susan Richards's writing is engaging and her descriptions of all things horsey, is dead on. But this memoir, nevertheless, falls short.

First, although this is supposed to be a kind of transformational story--woman finds her lost humanity and the capacity to love via one extraordinary horse--there is little character development. One might expect, for instance, that Richards's decision to adopt Lay Me Down, an elderly broodmare with a foal at her side, would be fraught with reluctance. Instead, Richards jumps right in, doing everything she can to nurse her abused charge back to life.

Richards, by the way, is a victim of abuse herself, and I guess the reader is supposed to see author's situation mirrored by the horse's. Or something. To her credit, Richards is clearly an animal lover and takes good care of Lay Me Down and all her horses. I've seen some reviewers complain that Richards is too self-involved and that the story is too much about her angst. I'd argue the opposite. Richards never really tells the reader how she was abused. She parcels out a few details, but is otherwise almost dismissive of the abuse. Her almost flippant attitude lessens this reader's sympathy.

About midway through the story, Richards starts to date a man, her first relationship in years. But readers expecting any kind of growth via this relationship will be disappointed. Hank is a self-involved twit and Richards know this. She keeps dating him because she likes the attention. Also, because when she tells her "friends" that Hank isn't right for her, they dismiss her concerns and tell her to give him another chance. Some friends. The relationship ends, not through any effort on Richards's part, but rather when Hank cheats on her.

Basically, Richards starts and ends the memoir pretty much the same person.

The real flaw, however, is that she chose the wrong equine protagonist. Lay Me Down is sweet. And "sweet" has its allure, especially when dealing with a 1200-pound animal who has the equivalent of hammers on the ends of its feet. But one might argue that her nature is the result of old age; she's an animal who has seen it all and just doesn't have the energy to give a shit. Because of her tractable nature, Lay Me Down never really challenges Richards.

I'd argue that the real equine hero should have been Richards's obstinate, headstrong Morgan mare, Georgia. It was with Georgia that Richards, years before, battled her darkest demon, alcoholism. This should have been the story of Richards and Georgia.