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Sharp, heartfelt, and cathartic, The Year of the Horses captures a woman’s journey out of depression and the horses that guide her, physically and emotionally, on a new path forward.
At the age of thirty-seven, Courtney Maum finds herself in an indoor arena in Connecticut, moments away from stepping back into the saddle. For her, this is not just a riding lesson, but a last-ditch attempt to pull herself back from the brink even though riding is a relic from the past she walked away from. She hasn’t been on or near a horse in over thirty years.
Although Maum does know what depression looks like, she finds herself refusing to admit, at this point in her life, that it could look like her: a woman with a privileged past, a mortgage, a husband, a healthy child, and a published novel. That she feels sadness is undeniable, but she feels no right to claim it. And when both therapy and medication fail, Courtney returns to her childhood passion of horseback riding as a way to recover the joy and fearlessness she once had access to as a young girl. As she finds her way, once again, through the world of contemporary horseback riding—Courtney becomes reacquainted with herself not only as a rider but as a mother, wife, daughter, writer, and woman. Alternating timelines and braided with historical portraits of women and horses alongside history’s attempts to tame both parties, The Year of the Horses is an inspiring love letter to the power of animals—and humans—to heal the mind and the heart.
In this wry and tender account, novelist Maum (Costalegre) chronicles her attempt to rekindle joy through a return to her childhood love of horseback riding. Three decades after her last ride, Maum was spurred to get back in the saddle when, as a new mother in her mid-30s, she became depressed. "Frequently referred to as a stealth therapy,' interaction with horses has been known to benefit people," she writes. "If you aren't calm, the horse won't be, either." She charts her "mental health improvement spree" with sardonic humor and a discerning gaze (upon first meeting her therapist, she laments, "there is no way I can bare my soul to a twentysomething in a Livestrong bracelet"). Meanwhile, despite the "violent" nature of polo, she takes up the sport and rediscovers her sensuality, a liberating contrast to her writing career and struggle to get pregnant again. Interspersed throughout are entertaining morsels of horse culture history from polo's contested origins in either China or Persia to the hero's drowning horse in The NeverEnding Story. While cynics might categorize Maum's memoir as a midlife crisis story, she resists the label: "When we bang our fists against the bars of middle age, it's usually because there is a voice within us that is sick to death of going unused." Her account of recovering that voice is vivid and exuberantly cathartic.