Riding out the pandemic is a serious challenge, and our #1 job is to stay healthy. Here’s hoping everyone is willing to be diligent about hygiene, about practicing self-isolation and social distancing, and, when venturing into the world, wearing some sort of mask – to protect yourself and others, also a solid reminder not to touch your face, even if you’re wearing gloves! It’s essential for everyone to choose to be a team player: better safe than sorry.
Reading is a great way to ride out any crisis, especially this current global emergency. For me, as a horse-crazy writer, there’s nothing like being carried off by good prose for an adventure. It’s a bit like riding a horse.
Right now, I take great comfort in cooking, baking, learning to garden, and reading. Reading took root in my early childhood when I didn’t just read, I devoured books. My favorite tales were (and still are) filled with horses. My ideal story provides entertainment and escape, as well as good humor, insight, and learning.
My absolute favorite author – idol and role model – is British: K. M. Peyton (born 1929), whose storytelling genius continues to influence me. She can write about anything and everything — horses, ponies, equestrian sports and disciplines, sailing, piano prodigies, conservation, you name it. Her characters, female and male, are wonderfully human and very real. As for her equine characters, they hooked me for life.
With 50 books to her credit, Peyton’s oldest works hold their own among newer entries in her bibliography. She understands overcoming adversity, the duality or paradox of human nature, and the monumental efforts and sacrifices required to pursue any dream, large or small. Her novels are enjoyable reads. They have pace and carry the reader like a good, steady horse cross-country no matter how trappy the terrain. Her voice is clear and compelling as she packs storylines with realism and the vicissitudes that accompany daily living, with and without horses.
Peyton’s novels take you on adventures. Her characters and her voice invite you to experience the full gamut of human emotion; you’ll end up feeling renewed grit, hope, and a sense of sharing dreams. Murphy’s Law means that something’s always going a bit off course or out of kilter, but that’s life and embarking to find your bliss via a primrose path of your choosing will be littered with serious moguls and other obstacles that challenge, even dare you to give it your best shot.
Seriously though, her books are fun to read although they all have serious bits, the odds are good that you will find at least one that entertains and sustains you.
Here’s one that never lets me down, available in hardback, paperback, and audiobook download or CD: Blind Beauty (2001) wherein Tessa, a young Irish girl grows up with impossible attitudes and is transformed (saved, literally and figuratively) by an Irish-bred Thoroughbred registered as Buffoon. This particular dream of equestrian glory has its sights fixed on the very historical Grand National handicap steeplechase, which first ran in 1839. The three-day meet takes place in early April, was canceled this year because of the pandemic, but it’s always an overwhelming crush of spectators and unbelievably exciting racing, which Peyton captures brilliantly in Blind Beauty,
Read Blind Beauty. Just. Do. It. You will come away moved, possibly crying, but go on, let go of the emotions and laugh until you cry. It’s good for your spirit and your soul.
Peyton also wrote Flambards, Edge of the Cloud, Flambards in Summer, on which the 1978 British TV series “Flambards” was based. In 1981 she published Flambards Divided, which puts a whole new ending onto the saga. No spoilers, sorry, but it’s excellent storytelling about rural England in the early 20th century, with lots of foxhunting, airplanes, World War I, and more horsepower than genus Equus.
Pennington, Peyton’s piano prodigy, is a borderline delinquent, who gets involved with Peyton’s pony-crazy teenager, Ruth Hollis, the central figure in Fly-By-Night and The Team. Read the horse novels first, because they lead into Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer, The Beethoven Medal, Pennington’s Heir, and Marion’s Angels (later reprinted as Falling Angels).
Two of Peyton’s funniest novels include Who, Sir? Me, Sir? About a teacher-instigated challenge between working-class teens versus rich kids. The working-class kids have to learn and train to compete in fencing, shooting, swimming, cross-country running, and riding over a cross-country course of solid jumps. Downhill All the Way sees several of the pentathlete team kids (not the posh ones) going off to France on a skiing trip. Two great tales, full of brilliant and hilarious descriptions, take your pick. They’re both entertaining.
If you have a household with kids of all ages, think about gathering for a group reading. Take turns and tune up your speaking voices. All the world is a stage, and the people on it are actors. Just have fun.
One standout contemporary author of horse fiction with great craic (Irish for fun and excitement) is Kate Lattey and her Pony Jumpers series set in New Zealand, especially Top Ten (#10) and my favorite Irish Luck, Special Edition #2, which moves the action to Ireland for the Junior Nations Cup of Show Jumping. Due to come out soon: Eleventh Hour (#11).
The Riverdale Pony series of eight books by Amanda Wills (GB) takes place in glorious Dartmoor wherein young Poppy finds her family moving to an old cottage where she discovers a pony living wild. So what if the reader is old enough to be Poppy’s grandparent? I’ve read them all and await the next adventure.
Please note that novels by Lattey and Mills are free downloads with Kindle Unlimited. Many of Peyton’s works are available in digital formats such as Kindle, but not Blind Beauty or her Flambards series.
To drop names of two beloved reads by Robin McKinley, available in hardback, paperback, ebook, and free audiobook downloads: The Blue Sword (Kindle, $2.99) and The Hero and The Crown (Kindle Unlimited) – horses, evil wizards, and bad dragons…
Great getaways – happy reading and keep chasing your dreams!