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Horse Girls: Recovering, Aspiring, and Devoted Riders Redefine the Iconic Bond

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A compelling and provocative essay collection that smashes stereotypes and redefines the meaning of the term “horse girl,” broadening it for women of all cultural backgrounds. As a child, horses consumed Halimah Marcus’ imagination. When she wasn’t around horses she was pretending to be one, cantering on two legs, hands poised to hold invisible reins. To her classmates, gir A compelling and provocative essay collection that smashes stereotypes and redefines the meaning of the term “horse girl,” broadening it for women of all cultural backgrounds. As a child, horses consumed Halimah Marcus’ imagination. When she wasn’t around horses she was pretending to be one, cantering on two legs, hands poised to hold invisible reins. To her classmates, girls like Halimah were known as “horse girls,” weird and overzealous, absent from the social worlds of their peers.  Decades later, when memes about “horse girl energy,” began appearing across social media—Halimah reluctantly recognized herself. The jokes imagine girls as blinkered as carriage ponies, oblivious to the mockery behind their backs. The stereotypical horse girl is also white, thin, rich, and straight, a daughter of privilege. Yet so many riders don’t fit this narrow, damaging ideal, and relate to horses in profound ways that include ambivalence and regret, as well as unbridled passion and devotion. Featuring some of the most striking voices in contemporary literature—including Carmen Maria Machado, Pulitzer-prize winner Jane Smiley, T Kira Madden, Maggie Shipstead, and Courtney Maum—Horse Girls reframes the iconic bond between girls and horses with the complexity and nuance it deserves. And it showcases powerful emerging voices like Braudie Blais-Billie, on the connection between her Seminole and Quebecois heritage; Sarah Enelow-Snyder, on growing up as a Black barrel racer in central Texas; and Nur Nasreen Ibrahim, on the colonialist influence on horse culture in Pakistan. By turns thought-provoking and personal, Horse Girls reclaims its titular stereotype to ask bold questions about autonomy and desire, privilege and ambition, identity and freedom, and the competing forces of domestication and wildness.


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A compelling and provocative essay collection that smashes stereotypes and redefines the meaning of the term “horse girl,” broadening it for women of all cultural backgrounds. As a child, horses consumed Halimah Marcus’ imagination. When she wasn’t around horses she was pretending to be one, cantering on two legs, hands poised to hold invisible reins. To her classmates, gir A compelling and provocative essay collection that smashes stereotypes and redefines the meaning of the term “horse girl,” broadening it for women of all cultural backgrounds. As a child, horses consumed Halimah Marcus’ imagination. When she wasn’t around horses she was pretending to be one, cantering on two legs, hands poised to hold invisible reins. To her classmates, girls like Halimah were known as “horse girls,” weird and overzealous, absent from the social worlds of their peers.  Decades later, when memes about “horse girl energy,” began appearing across social media—Halimah reluctantly recognized herself. The jokes imagine girls as blinkered as carriage ponies, oblivious to the mockery behind their backs. The stereotypical horse girl is also white, thin, rich, and straight, a daughter of privilege. Yet so many riders don’t fit this narrow, damaging ideal, and relate to horses in profound ways that include ambivalence and regret, as well as unbridled passion and devotion. Featuring some of the most striking voices in contemporary literature—including Carmen Maria Machado, Pulitzer-prize winner Jane Smiley, T Kira Madden, Maggie Shipstead, and Courtney Maum—Horse Girls reframes the iconic bond between girls and horses with the complexity and nuance it deserves. And it showcases powerful emerging voices like Braudie Blais-Billie, on the connection between her Seminole and Quebecois heritage; Sarah Enelow-Snyder, on growing up as a Black barrel racer in central Texas; and Nur Nasreen Ibrahim, on the colonialist influence on horse culture in Pakistan. By turns thought-provoking and personal, Horse Girls reclaims its titular stereotype to ask bold questions about autonomy and desire, privilege and ambition, identity and freedom, and the competing forces of domestication and wildness.

30 review for Horse Girls: Recovering, Aspiring, and Devoted Riders Redefine the Iconic Bond

  1. 5 out of 5

    Becca Louw

    Can you not give half a star?? 3.5. Glad this book exists, I never thought I would read some of my oldest and truest and most uncomfortable horse girl feelings written on paper. Some stories are dull, but worth it for T Kira’s horse girl love story.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Terri M.

    I grew up loving horses like many girls. However, I didn't get the opportunity to experience them beyond the rare trail ride I convinced family members to take while on vacation. In 2007, I started taking lessons. I wanted to be competent on a horse and around horses. I will admit, since I didn't grow up with horses, I haven't felt completely comfortable around other horse people. These essays made me feel seen. It's not about knowing the most about horses or winning all the ribbons, but underst I grew up loving horses like many girls. However, I didn't get the opportunity to experience them beyond the rare trail ride I convinced family members to take while on vacation. In 2007, I started taking lessons. I wanted to be competent on a horse and around horses. I will admit, since I didn't grow up with horses, I haven't felt completely comfortable around other horse people. These essays made me feel seen. It's not about knowing the most about horses or winning all the ribbons, but understanding what horses mean to you, how they make you feel, their place in our lives and our history. Each of the essays touches on one or more of these points. Every essay was accessible and made me feel a part of the large horse community. I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cheyne

    "If you were to lean in close and breathe deep, she would smell like heterosexuality, independence, whiteness, femininity." As a horse girl, I was so excited when my dog walker dropped off an uncorrected proof of this book that they'd found in a book box near my house. Horse Girls is not like other "horse books", each essay is unique and offers a fresh perspective of what it is to be a Horse Girl. My favourites were Carmen Maria Machado's "Horse Girl: An Inquiry", T Kira Madden's "I Don't Love Ho "If you were to lean in close and breathe deep, she would smell like heterosexuality, independence, whiteness, femininity." As a horse girl, I was so excited when my dog walker dropped off an uncorrected proof of this book that they'd found in a book box near my house. Horse Girls is not like other "horse books", each essay is unique and offers a fresh perspective of what it is to be a Horse Girl. My favourites were Carmen Maria Machado's "Horse Girl: An Inquiry", T Kira Madden's "I Don't Love Horses", Alex Marzano-Lesnevich's "Hungry And Carefree", Braudie Blais-Billie's "Unconquered", and Rosebud Ben-Oni's "We Aren't Close To Anywhere".

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Wagner

    What was I looking for inside these covers? I'm a former horse girl myself...aspirational, not actual. I collected Grand Champions horses (much cheaper than Breyer) and also I had a couple of cousins with access to horses. I envied and respected this wealth. This companionship with giant, sociable, warm animals, in green or muddy fields, on private backwoods trails and in splintery, hot or cold barns. I loved everything about horses. Even their shit. I cringed inside when I noticed one of my cou What was I looking for inside these covers? I'm a former horse girl myself...aspirational, not actual. I collected Grand Champions horses (much cheaper than Breyer) and also I had a couple of cousins with access to horses. I envied and respected this wealth. This companionship with giant, sociable, warm animals, in green or muddy fields, on private backwoods trails and in splintery, hot or cold barns. I loved everything about horses. Even their shit. I cringed inside when I noticed one of my cousins' horses with a gnarly tangle in its mane. My heart ached to see how the horses would come when called, like puppies, with or without the presence of treats. I picked pieces of oat and molasses from grain buckets and nibbled. I never actually outgrew this. I outgrew the toys -- in a fit of desperation I gave all of my Grand Champion horses to my grade school best friend when I felt her beginning to outgrow me. As I hit adolescence and my parents were able to leave me at home alone more, I saw less of my cousins and their horses. I never really had a personal relationship with horses, and my proximity to them gradually drifted away. It was all fantasy. This book features a range of voices from various backgrounds, all who have "horse girl" in their resume someplace. It explores the murky themes of the horse-girl relationship: power, prestige, control, freedom. But while a few of the essays were especially poignant, like really deep explorations of coming of age, I was sharply disappointed at how few HORSE STORIES were here. Like, I realize that serious writers consider anthropomorphism to be anathema. But these are HORSE GIRLS. Tell me about the look in his eye. Tell me about how gentle she was when she accidentally put her teeth on you. There were precious few of these moments here. They weren't absent, but I get the feeling that they were frowned on a bit in the editing. Lots of looking back at the past, not so much mindfulness about what it's like being around horses. What a letdown.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alex Leon

    I'm a horse. I felt this collection of essays by women about horses (descriptor which, taxonomically and/or biologically accurate as it may be, far from encompasses or defines me, as any identitarian syllogism tends) was upsettingly speciest. There seem to have been no actual horses consulted, and throughout, horses like myself seemed to be reduced to little more than romantic vectors of projection for the desires and ruminations of that other species mentioned in the title. Disappointing to say I'm a horse. I felt this collection of essays by women about horses (descriptor which, taxonomically and/or biologically accurate as it may be, far from encompasses or defines me, as any identitarian syllogism tends) was upsettingly speciest. There seem to have been no actual horses consulted, and throughout, horses like myself seemed to be reduced to little more than romantic vectors of projection for the desires and ruminations of that other species mentioned in the title. Disappointing to say in the least. PETA will boycott, though that association of animal zealots have hardly themselves a better track record in the above-mentioned political fetishism, not to mention the literary analysis chops (oops!) with which to review these scribblings. Neigh, I say.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Liv

    God, what a stunner. I got approved to read this 3 weeks into a bad book slump, picked it up expecting to put it right back down again thanks to the wildness of ~life circumstances~ but was HOOKED from the first sentence of T Kira's essay. Following that one with Carmen Maria Machado's was a 1-2 punch of perfection. The book bogged for me in the middle, to the point where I set it aside. These middle essays weren't as formally daring as the opening ones, and I didn't connect with their subject m God, what a stunner. I got approved to read this 3 weeks into a bad book slump, picked it up expecting to put it right back down again thanks to the wildness of ~life circumstances~ but was HOOKED from the first sentence of T Kira's essay. Following that one with Carmen Maria Machado's was a 1-2 punch of perfection. The book bogged for me in the middle, to the point where I set it aside. These middle essays weren't as formally daring as the opening ones, and I didn't connect with their subject matter much (or at all). This is the frustration I have with anthologies, that hit-or-miss quality, but I suspect this is where other readers will find their favorite material, so. [insert shrug] I'm happy to report the book piqued my interest again with "Daredevils" and ran right along to a satisfying end. Favorites include "I Don't Love Horses," "Horse Girl: An Inquiry," "Daredevils," "Unconquered," "For the Roses," and "We Aren't Close to Anywhere." Many thanks to NetGalley and Harper Perennial for the ARC. Out 8/3/21.

  7. 5 out of 5

    LoneStarWords Deb Coco

    I tell my friends with children that it's good for a girl to grow up around horses; I think it's true. It teaches you about power--how to wield it responsibly, when you must let go. It teaches you self-possession and the ability to stay calm when you're afraid. It makes you strong... Horse Girls Recovering, Aspiring, and Devoted Riders Redefine the Iconic Bond Halimah Marcus/C.Morgan Babst • Horses are a huge part of my family's life and Horse Girls was a perfect little book because it combines two o I tell my friends with children that it's good for a girl to grow up around horses; I think it's true. It teaches you about power--how to wield it responsibly, when you must let go. It teaches you self-possession and the ability to stay calm when you're afraid. It makes you strong... Horse Girls Recovering, Aspiring, and Devoted Riders Redefine the Iconic Bond Halimah Marcus/C.Morgan Babst • Horses are a huge part of my family's life and Horse Girls was a perfect little book because it combines two of my greatest loves. It is is a compilation of essays from some big names in the literary world (Jane Smiley, Carmen Maria Machado, and Maggie Shipstead to name just a few) that aims to debunk some of the glamorous and stereotypical images of women and horses and replace them with real life experiences from horse women. Not women who ride competitively for a living, but women for whom horses have either filled a void, calmed a fear or healed a wound. Those of us who have been blessed to have horses be a part of our lives know that these animals have a power to do all of these and more and these essays bring those powers to life. • I am often asked how our daughters turned out so hard working and resilient and my husband and I always have a one word answer: HORSES. • This book is the perfect gift for the "horse girl" in your life. It will help you understand her devotion to these magnificent creatures and give you a unique perspective on a very special and hard to describe bond, one I feel the pull of every day. • "If we could entrust this planet to only one kind, I'd stake my life on the horses. May they inherit the earth." Last quote, but there are many.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christie Bane

    This is a collection of essays about the various ways horses were intertwined with the lives of the girls who wrote the essays. The book is “about” horses and the way they shape lives, but every essay also has themes of culture, family, belonging, race, gender, and other concepts that are both bigger and less interesting than horses. These essays are extraordinarily well-written (and no wonder, read through the bibliography and you will see these are some very accomplished writers) but a little This is a collection of essays about the various ways horses were intertwined with the lives of the girls who wrote the essays. The book is “about” horses and the way they shape lives, but every essay also has themes of culture, family, belonging, race, gender, and other concepts that are both bigger and less interesting than horses. These essays are extraordinarily well-written (and no wonder, read through the bibliography and you will see these are some very accomplished writers) but a little too pretentiously literary for me to love them. The voices (both in writing and in narration) sound so similar that it’s almost like good writing training has edged out originality. It’s good, but not great.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mackay

    I reckon I'm older than the contributors to this collection. None of their experiences echo at all with mine as a "horse girl," which most seem to think a pejorative term. (I had never heard it used in the way most of these essay writers do till I read this book.) But I clearly was one, worshiping horses from who knows how young. I enjoyed some of these pieces and found several of the experience detailed fascinating but sad. But I do wonder...what was the point? For me, horses are pure magic, and I reckon I'm older than the contributors to this collection. None of their experiences echo at all with mine as a "horse girl," which most seem to think a pejorative term. (I had never heard it used in the way most of these essay writers do till I read this book.) But I clearly was one, worshiping horses from who knows how young. I enjoyed some of these pieces and found several of the experience detailed fascinating but sad. But I do wonder...what was the point? For me, horses are pure magic, and making a connection with another mind while riding well comes as close to exaltation as I have ever achieved. For me, it wasn't about Freudian substitution, competition (though I did compete), or any of the other tropes detailed in this book. It was about the animals themselves, each different, each beautiful, confusing, contrary, sweet, mean, and wonderful. People don't wonder why others keep dogs or cats or lizards... why stereotype those who love equines?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jennie

    Review to come.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer L.

    This is a lovely book! It is a perfect read for horse lovers. The bond you have with a horse really is hard to put into words, and it is such a beautiful gift to have. My horse has helped me through stages of grief and healed my heart. I appreciate that this book isn’t your typical horse book. I really enjoyed this collection of essays as it explores beyond the cliche notion of what and who a horse girl is.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    A good variety of essays in that they aren't all strictly about horses. Some are coming-of-age stories, some are slanted towards travel or adventure, a couple have dysfunctional family issues. Race and gender are issues inherent in the horse world and some essays address those issues. The essays that are mainly horse focused really hit the mark as far as my own experience as a horse girl. Especially Jane Smiley's No Regrets. She talks about why letting horses be who they are is crucial to having A good variety of essays in that they aren't all strictly about horses. Some are coming-of-age stories, some are slanted towards travel or adventure, a couple have dysfunctional family issues. Race and gender are issues inherent in the horse world and some essays address those issues. The essays that are mainly horse focused really hit the mark as far as my own experience as a horse girl. Especially Jane Smiley's No Regrets. She talks about why letting horses be who they are is crucial to having a true friendship with them and how they are not our servants but our collaborators. And that they have opinions about collaborating with us. This rings true for me. We horse girls can spend hours talking about our favorite subject and bore the hell out of non-horse folks. This book won't do that. Most of the essays are broad in their scope and I think there's something for everyone here.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bookoholiccafe

    I don’t usually read essays, but this one has Horses in it 😊 I love horses and these essays are about understanding what they mean to you, and you feel when you are around them. I found each essay unique, and they each offer a new picture and understanding of what it is to be a Horse Girl. My favorites are Turnout and What Will Leave you.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Erin Washburn

    This was an easy read but not a quick one. Though I could have sat down in one afternoon and finished this book, some of the stories left me in deep reflection about my own experiences as “a horse girl”. Some other readers have commented that a few stories were lacklustre and I would agree. However, this is a great anthology of stories that will resonate with any “horse girl”.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Meyer

    If you're into horses and know what goes into the life of them, this book is for you. If not, it probably isn't worth the read. Personally I never got into the horse life so I couldn't connect with this book. If you're into horses and know what goes into the life of them, this book is for you. If not, it probably isn't worth the read. Personally I never got into the horse life so I couldn't connect with this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Madison Davies

    This book is helping me face my burnout with working with horses everyday.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Corinne Morier

    Might give this to my boss as a gift cause she loves horses

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Durkee Hester

    I’m not, nor have I ever aspired to be, a horse girl. While I wasn’t sure if I would get much out of this book, I rather enjoyed it. Many of the essays challenge the narrative that love of horses is inherently only for little girls. Why are things women like often deemed “basic” or whatever the preferred term is? They also address the wealthy thin whiteness of American barns despite a rich history of POC riders and some of the darker aspects of horse girl culture. Some of the essays were tough f I’m not, nor have I ever aspired to be, a horse girl. While I wasn’t sure if I would get much out of this book, I rather enjoyed it. Many of the essays challenge the narrative that love of horses is inherently only for little girls. Why are things women like often deemed “basic” or whatever the preferred term is? They also address the wealthy thin whiteness of American barns despite a rich history of POC riders and some of the darker aspects of horse girl culture. Some of the essays were tough for me because they assumed a basic understanding of horse/barn terms that I didn’t have. Others could have benefited from a bit more editing because they meandered a bit, making the through line hard to find. Some, however, were quite excellent. Standout essays for me by Carmen Maria Machado (with a brief appearance by the woman from the dream house), C. Morgan Babst, Maggie Shipstead, and Sarah Enelow-Snyder. Thanks to Harper Perennial for the gifted finished copy. A surprisingly insightful and engaging read. 3.5 stars. CW: sexual harassment, sexual assault, eating disorders, bullying, descriptions of inhumane treatment of horses, divorce, financial problems, suicidal imagery

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carla (literary.infatuation)

    I really enjoyed this very diverse and personal collection of essays. I loved how the myriad of voices echoed girl/women’s relationships to horses in the US and the images that they evoke, but also how other cultures relate to horses differently. It’s not about the posh outfit and the perfect ponytail, the races and the privilege of being able to afford to ride but an older and utilitarian bond in places like Pakistan or Latin America. But don’t be fooled. This book is not about horses or at lea I really enjoyed this very diverse and personal collection of essays. I loved how the myriad of voices echoed girl/women’s relationships to horses in the US and the images that they evoke, but also how other cultures relate to horses differently. It’s not about the posh outfit and the perfect ponytail, the races and the privilege of being able to afford to ride but an older and utilitarian bond in places like Pakistan or Latin America. But don’t be fooled. This book is not about horses or at least not only about horses. It’s about embracing and defining with womanhood and freedom means to us and taking the reigns of our identity (pun intended). A very cute and beautiful collection that I truly enjoyed.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jackie Carpenter

  23. 4 out of 5

    iliketoreadpod

  24. 4 out of 5

    Megan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Harper Perennial

  26. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Fuller

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mrs. Johnston

  28. 4 out of 5

    Shelly Buchanan

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emily Simpson

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lira

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