The best books with adventure, strong women, and horses

Sara Warner Author Of Still Waters
By Sara Warner

Who am I?

I am a lifelong horsewoman, environmental researcher, and writer. After a career with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, working to protect wild rivers and streams, I “retired” to become a dressage teacher, trainer, and judge, and I regularly travel the Gulf Coast, teaching dressage clinics. I have taught literature and writing at the college level. I have bred and trained champion horses and helped horses rescued from dire situations. Together with my husband, I also organized a rescue operation for horses on the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina. I have a PhD in History, Theory, and Culture from Emory University. All in all, I’ve had an adventurous and wonderful life which I try to share in my writing.

I wrote...

Still Waters

By Sara Warner,

Book cover of Still Waters

What is my book about?

When environmental researcher and would-be writer Teena Shostekovich returns home to find her computer files stolen, she suspects it has to do with the “hot potato” case she’s been working. But a call from the thief complicates things. Nothing gets any clearer when Detective Logan Deo comes to her door and news from her ex-husband Mack alerts her to peril that seems a world away. Meanwhile, the story of Jessie Weston, a cowgirl turned biologist, unfolds on the shores of Lake Ponder, where a dike her father built is bringing nothing but trouble from state officials. As Teena’s and Jessie’s paths veer ever closer, the dangers in their lives threaten to explode.

Winner of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards’ Grand Prize for Fiction.

The books I picked & why

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Afraid to Ride

By C.W. Anderson,

Book cover of Afraid to Ride

Why this book?

I first discovered this wonderful story decades ago in my youth, when I read everything I could find with a horse in it. Many years later, following a catastrophic riding accident, I found this book tucked away on a backroom shelf. I immediately recalled that Judy’s struggle was precisely the one I was then facing, and I spent the afternoon re-reading her story. There may be something enduringly healing about the stories we love in childhood, because the power of Anderson’s story helped me recover my confidence with my horses. An added bonus of Anderson’s books are his masterful sketches which capture the essence of the horses at the center of his stories, and Afraid to Ride includes some of my all-time favorites.

The Horse Dancer

By Jojo Moyes,

Book cover of The Horse Dancer

Why this book?

It is entirely likely that readers who are not dressage aficionados will not “get” this book at all. But for those who love the classical art of dressage, this is a novel that finally “gets” us. This complex story draws in the tragic losses of the young Sarah and the importance of her horse in a dangerous world. This theme recapitulates the story of dressage itself in that the training of horses for military roles throughout history gave a tremendous advantage to the soldier who was mounted, giving him power far beyond his own. For Sarah, the partnership with her horse, and the sacrifices she demands of herself to maintain her connection with him, give her the sense of empowerment to overcome dangerous people and circumstances and achieve her highest goals.

Hex: A Ruby Murphy Mystery

By Maggie Estep,

Book cover of Hex: A Ruby Murphy Mystery

Why this book?

Few people in the world could render with so much humanity the backstreet stories of Coney Island and Belmont Race Track as Estep has in “Hex.” As main character/narrator Ruby navigates the down and out animals and humans of her neighborhood, we are made privy to the power of kindness and friendship in a carnivalesque world that continually threatens to fall into shambles. As a lifelong rider and trainer myself, I have often been struck by the proximity of extremes in the horse world. Estep’s revelations of a dark and pithy world, shot through with the dreams and aspirations of regular people, is a fascinating ride through streets at once familiar and strange. A treat for adventurous readers.

Horse Heaven

By Jane Smiley,

Book cover of Horse Heaven

Why this book?

Scams. Abuse. Betrayal. Love. Forgiveness. Trust. Smiley is a master of the ways our humanity stumbles and catches hold, again and again. She is also an owner of a race horse or two and knows the inside out of track life. I loved this book from the first few pages for the ease with which the horses have presence, voice, and character. As a lifelong horse keeper myself, it is impossible not to know that horses are deeply intelligent individuals. But as a lifelong reader, it is hard to find books so dedicated to the full representation of horses. In Horse Heaven Smiley presents two years of track life through various characters, conveying the traditions and tricks of Thoroughbred breeding and racing that make for a fascinating view into this slice of life. Take it on a cruise…it’s long.

Persephone's Mare

By Iza Moreau,

Book cover of Persephone's Mare

Why this book?

For readers who love fantasy, the story of Persephone and her discovery of the magical world of Equidona will be a favorite. After the sudden and inexplicable loss of her mother, who was a devoted horsewoman, Persephone finds herself swept into a world in which horses are at the center of a society at a crossroads. The widespread use of magic has put people at odds with some of the longest and most cherished traditions of horsemanship. Persephone must discover her own powers in order to help control the forces that killed her mother. I love this story for its careful sketching of the values of a life with horses. LGBTQ theme.

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