Michael Korda’s Horse People is the story – sometimes hilariously funny, sometimes sad and moving, always shrewdly observed – of a lifetime love affair with horses, and about the bonds that have linked humans with horses for more than ten thousand years. It is filled with intimate portraits of the kind of people, rich or poor, Eastern or Western, famous or humble, whose lives continue to revolve around the horse.
How is it that the horse, neither a pet nor, strictly speaking, a working animal, has managed to survive and even thrive in the modern world, and whence comes our fascination for this creature, which is at once fragile and immensely strong, docile yet amazingly swift, friendly but still at heart wild?
Korda has spent his entire life around people who love horses –in fact he met his wife, Margaret, while they were both riding in New York’s Central Park. His book is a loving tribute to a shared obsession that takes the reader far afield, whether it’s foxhunting in Virginia, the rodeo in Madison Square Garden, the world of competitive riding , or the simply enjoyment of a daily, early-morning ride in the country.
Indeed, many of the “characters” in his book – which, like the works of the great nineteenth-century British sporting novelists Surtees, whom Korda so admires, is as much about horses as “horse people” – are the horses he (and Margaret) have owned, loved, ridden, and sometimes lost, to old age or disease, over the years. Readers who love horses will appreciate the often touching portraits of such animals as Tabasco, Margaret’s elderly thoroughbred, whom she rescued from life as a hack in Centre Park; True Grit, the strong-minded mare who hated joggers and dogs; Hustle, the kindly gentleman of a quarterhorse who never put a foot wrong, even when he lost one eye to cancer; and Margaret’s favourite, Nebraska, an Appaloosa mare (nicknamed “Miss Braveheart”) who went on to win innumerable medals, ribbons, and wards, and whose untimely death is told in one of the most poignant scenes in the book.
It is also about many people, from prisoners who rehabilitate broken-down racehorses to famous riders (such as William Steinkraus, who rode in five Olympics and won four medals, including the individual gold in Mexico City in 1968), farriers, vets, horse dealers of all kinds, and little girls with their ponies.
Horses have a way of taking over one’s life, and Horse People is the story of that obsession – of people who love horses, or know horses, or make their living from horses, or who just plain can’t imagine what life would be like without horses.
Korda is an unparalleled storyteller, and his book is intensely personal and seductive, a joy for everyone who loves horses – though even those who have never ridden will be happy to saddle up and follow him through the world of horses, horse people, and the riding life.