The best memoirs by women who love horses

Who am I?

I was a horse-crazy young girl whose passion for equines went dormant for 30 years. It reawakened when I turned 40, and I was again a lovelorn teenager, daydreaming about horses, plotting treks, swooning over the mere sight of an equine, even if it was online. One day in the late 90s at the dawn of the Google search engine, I happened upon a picture of a beauty, a dark horse with a thick mane blowing in the wind. It was an Icelandic horse, the photo taken on a misty green tussock in Iceland. That was it for me. I focused my equine passion (fair to call it an obsession) to that horse and that country.  

I wrote...

Wild Horses of the Summer Sun: A Memoir of Iceland

By Tory Bilski,

Book cover of Wild Horses of the Summer Sun: A Memoir of Iceland

What is my book about?

Every summer, I took a “horse sabbatical” and traveled with a group of like-minded friends to a farm in northern Iceland. It was a place of golden light and windswept beauty. We stayed on one of the largest breeding farms in the country and trekked out daily. Midnight sun insomnia, randy stallions, subarctic cuisine, challenging place names, never-too-late in-life crushes, spirited horses—Iceland proved to be an annual reprieve from our ordinary life that made us feel extraordinary. At its heart, it’s really a coming-of-age story for that second stage of lifethe vast years of middle age. The trips brought out not just our best selves, but also our most ridiculous selvesand that is not meant pejoratively. 

The books I picked & why

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Horse Crazy: The Story of a Woman and a World in Love with an Animal

By Sarah Maslin Nir,

Book cover of Horse Crazy: The Story of a Woman and a World in Love with an Animal

Why this book?

Because horses… Nir begins. She deftly weaves together her personal history and her love of horses. It may be an elusive love, but one of her former riding instructors puts it best: “Twelve, that’s my age with horses... that kind of free, fearless thing that I used to have at that age.” Nir, raised by a Holocaust survivor father who figures large in her life, grows up with all the accouterments of wealth on the Upper East Side and summers in the Hamptons. Despite the trappings, she feels she is from the wrong background and is an outsider in that ritzy world. Horses bring her home to herself.

Through her own exploration of life with horses, she catches up with an array of equine experts from Monty Roberts now in his 80s, to Black Cowboys whose history has been erased in our history, to a woman who secretly imported Marwari horses to her farm on Cape Cod. Nir prides herself on the ability to ride any horse and she is fearless. It is an extreme sport, she writes, because of the danger it places you in. And even after numerous broken bones, including vertebrae (which she devotes nary a sentence to), she does not waver in her enthusiasm to ride. I am an extreme person, she says. Let me repeat: she is fearless. 

A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse

By Nancy Marie Brown,

Book cover of A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse

Why this book?

Nancy Marie Brown’s book came into my life at a most prescient time in my own horse history. I discovered her book at just the moment I was discovering this then rare breed, the Icelandic horse. In the late 1990s, Brown goes to Iceland searching for the perfect horse (gaedingur in Icelandic). The country was very different from the tourist magnet it is today. It was wilder, more isolated, less traveled. Brown is there in pursuit of a horse or two to bring home. She first arrives with her husband and eight-year-old son after a family trauma. They stay in a broken-down house, “a concrete box” without modern amenities. She tries her best to learn and converse in the native tongue with the local farmers. As she tests drive all the horses, the reader learns all about Icelandic horses and horse-buying. What adds such depth to this book is that Brown is steeped in knowledge of the Icelandic sagas and weaves these tales in with her own tales, so the reader gets history, literature, and a good horse yarn all in one. And her writing style just sends me. She manages to conjure up the beauty in the hard-boiled landscape of lava fields.  

Horse Sluts: The Saga of Two Women on the Trail of Their Yeehaw

By Candace Wade, Penelope Langley,

Book cover of Horse Sluts: The Saga of Two Women on the Trail of Their Yeehaw

Why this book?

The title just made me laugh. Wade introduces herself and her co-partner in her adventures, Penelope Langley, as middle-aged women who refuse to surrender to age, and exhort themselves and others to reclaim their “yeehaw”—that feeling of freedom, wildness, that one we last had at the age of twelve. In this collection of short tales, her answer to the age-old problem of aging is a call to gallop. We follow her all very relatable equestrian pursuits through all her foibles and fun. A scene where she watches as Penelope makes friends with the most questionable character—why? because he owns horses—made me spit out my coffee. Hence the title of her book explained, they are horse sluts because they will do anything to pimp a ride.

Wade is honest about the challenges of riding as you start to get older. She is both fearful and fearless. She worries about hurting herself but finds the courage to saddle up anyway. She takes riding vacations, which turn into a grab bag of plusses and minuses. She switches stables and horses so often that I think someone should invent a Tinder-like app for matching horses with riders. At one point, she tallies up her reasons for not actually buying a horse of her own: the expense, the responsibility, the knowledge gap, the time. At the end of this book, I finally gave myself permission to reconcile all the reasons I will probably never own a horse of my own.  

Lady Long Rider: Alone Across America on Horseback

By Bernice Ende,

Book cover of Lady Long Rider: Alone Across America on Horseback

Why this book?

Bernice Ende has become a legend in trail riding. She died from cancer last year, but she leaves behind this book which chronicles her cross-country trekking. At the age of 50, she quits her job, takes her horse, a packhorse (where she jerry rigs a saddle for her dog), and hits the trail for months at a time, though one trek lasts for over two years.  She crisscrosses the west, southwest, and northwest Canada. Alone. At the end of every day, she throws down her sleeping bag, puts up a tent, heats up her canned food, and ruminates on the pleasures of simplicity. Occasionally she shares a meal with friendly townspeople, and people along the way let her set up a tent in their field or barn. In return, she gives a talk at a local library. But her best life is on the trail with her horses and dog. She is there for the ride. This is a whole other take on finding freedom by riding horses. Whatever character trait that drove this woman —fortitude, resilience, toughness, endurance—I am floored by her courage. 

Dark Horses and Black Beauties: Animals, Women, a Passion

By Melissa Holbrook Pierson,

Book cover of Dark Horses and Black Beauties: Animals, Women, a Passion

Why this book?

The book begins with stories of how young girls get hooked on horses: the raised pulse, the daydreaming, the mind swimming in adoration, and then this compulsion to ride a thousand-pound beast. To be one with the horse is the goal; it is the whole animal-human communication. Pierson attempts to explain the somewhat unexplainable and goes beyond the romance and myths and drills down on the psychological, subliminal, or substitute quirks of love that are heaped on horses. After she undoes our heart, she goes deeper. 

This animal gives us everything and their history with humans has been dark, even recently, from doping to soring to shoeing. There is a chapter on Premarin (short for Pregnant Mare Urine), the hormone replacement therapy that was prescribed routinely to women over 50. Lest we forget, twenty years ago the AMA was still diagnosing menopause as a medical disorder, and pharmaceutical companies were quick to cash in with a pill-a-day remedy. In Premarin’s heyday, up to 750,000 mares were kept continually pregnant, tied up in a cement-floored factory, and kept chronically thirsty so their pee was more concentrated. For so many reasons, this still makes my blood boil.   

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in horses, equestrianism, and dressage?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about horses, equestrianism, and dressage.

Horses Explore 90 books about horses
Equestrianism Explore 28 books about equestrianism
Dressage Explore 10 books about dressage

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Horse People, Half Broke, and Hold Your Horses if you like this list.