The prequel to CHOSEN BY A HORSE, detailing how Richards met Georgia and her struggle through alcoholism
One day, at the age of thirty-one, Susan Richards realized that she was an alcoholic. She wrote it down in her journal, struck by the fact that it had taken nine years of waking up hung-over to name her illness. What had changed?
Susan had a new horse, a spirited Morgan named Georgia, and, as she says: “It had something to do with Georgia. It had something to do with making a commitment as enormous as caring for a horse that might live as my companion for the next forty years. It had something to do with love.” Every day begins with a morning ride.
Every day Susan lives a little more and thinks about her mistakes a little less. Every day she learns a little more from Georgia, the kind of horse who doesn’t go in for indecision, who doesn’t apologize for her opinions, and who isn’t afraid to be herself. In Georgia, Susan finds something to draw her back to herself, but also something to keep her steady and focused, to teach her about stepping carefully in unknown territory, to help her learn again about balance.
This is a memoir about the power of animals to carry us through the toughest times of our lives—about the importance of constancy, the beauty of quiet, steadfast love, the way loving a good (and sometimes bad!) animal can keep you going. It’s a wonderful story for Susan’s (and Georgia’s) fans, and for anyone who has ever loved an animal enough to keep on living.
It was late fall, and my cousin Holly and I were galloping down an old dirt logging road near the Adirondack farm I'd just bought. I was on my new Morgan mare, Georgia, and Holly was on a bay quarter-horse mare named Nikka, who boarded in my barn. The air was sweet with the smell of white pine and horse sweat, and I was laughing even though I was so depressed about a disastrous marriage and a drinking problem that I didn't care if I fell off my horse and died. I always laughed when I galloped a horse. Even when I was so hung over that my hands shook or when the night before was a blur of violent confrontations with my husband.
I'd had Georgia less than a week. That morning she'd kicked our stable help, Alan, out of her stall, slamming him so hard against the wall it had knocked the wind out of him. I'd grabbed her halter and dragged her outside. No, wait. She had dragged me outside, but once there, I'd finally asserted control and punched her on the rear flank, yelling No! She had turned to look at me standing next to her rear leg, thinking maybe I was getting ready to slug her again. Are you crazy? I shouted into her placid eyes.
How fast a horse blinks can tell you a lot.
At first she didn't blink at all, but when she did, it was so slow I could have recited a short poem by the time the thick-lashed lids ho-hummed their way back open.
Either she didn't feel the punch or she didn't care. Her ears were straight up and perked forward, perhaps listening for the sound of fresh hay being scattered on the ground or just enjoying the full attention of the human at her side, even though the human seemed temporarily demented. We looked at each other for a long time. I glared at her and she? She bah-linked.
I was looking for guilt, for some indication that she understood kicking was very, very bad. It would have been OK if she had looked scared, if she had danced away from me, scooting her flank out of reach of the terrible hitting hand. But she hadn't. It wasn't that we didn't understand each other, that we had somehow failed to communicate our point of view. We had. I was sorry that she had kicked Alan, and she wasn't. Bah-link.
Later we galloped through the woods on that crisp fall morning, the incident forgotten, while laughter ripped its way through my despair. My worst fear has come true, I'd written in my journal earlier that day. I'm an alcoholic. My life, my marriage_=_it's all a sham.
My worst fear had actually come true years before, but it was only that morning that I'd named it for what it was, that I had written it down. Alcoholic. It seemed as bad as cancer, maybe worse because this felt like an elective, like one of those classes you took at college just for the fun of it. Something you decided sounded better than the dozens of other classes you could have taken. Alcoholism, you might have written on your registration form after reading the course description: Students will learn to drink large amounts of alcohol, often surreptitiously, while pretending to suffer no ill effects. Prerequisites include the ability to lie and a strong belief that the laws of physics and biochemistry and irrefutable evidence of any kind that attempts to undermine a lifestyle of complete dissipation applies only to others.
I'd been waking up hung over since 1970. Nine years. It seemed like a long time not to see something as obvious as a drinking problem. But denial was part of the course description, the part where you lied a lot, which included lying to yourself. I was good at that. I was good at all of it. Except suddenly I was almost thirty, and I knew what I hadn't known the day before or the week before or the year before. Why now?
It had something to do with Georgia. It had something to do with making a commitment as enormous as caring for a horse who might live as my companion for the next forty years. It had something to do with love. My search for a horse had lasted almost a year and taken me all over the Northeast_=_from the best Morgan-breeding farms in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York to the backyard paddocks in the suburbs of Boston where young girls had gone off to college, leaving their passion for horses behind.
I had known I wanted a Morgan since I was seven years old and had outgrown Bunty, the impossible but beloved Shetland pony my grandmother had given me when I was six. After two years of being bitten, kicked, and thrown, I saw my riding instructor appear at my lesson one day leading a Morgan gelding school-horse for me to ride. I fell in love with Alert's stocky, muscular beauty as he effortlessly carried me around pony-club show rings and later on cross-country hunts and bareback swims in nearby Langley Pond. The breed is known for its endurance and versatility, and there seemed to be nothing Alert wasn't willing to do. His steady good nature and love of being ridden endeared me to the breed forever, and I longed for the day when I could have my own Morgan.
That day came on a late fall afternoon in upstate New York when, to get away from a husband I'd grown to hate, I'd hopped in the car and driven four hours to a well-known Morgan breeder near Syracuse who had lots of stock for sale. I don't know why I thought bringing a horse into the chaos in my life was a good idea. I just knew that for the past year, looking for what I had come to refer to as my Morgan had given me the only peace and sanity I had.
It was as clear and crisp as a fall day can get when I turned off the main road and onto the long dirt drive that led past dozens of Morgans pastured on both sides of the road that cut the farm in half. I drove slowly, letting my eyes wander over the beautiful faces and graceful arched necks for which Morgans are so prized. I was looking for signs of poor health or poor breeding, either of which would have ended my search on the spot, before I'd even met the owner. But I was also looking for something else, not in the herds grazing almost to the horizon on either side of my car, but for something inside myself, a sense of recognition or connection that would let me know when I'd found my horse. In all the horses I'd seen in my year of looking, I'd never once felt this. I'd never felt That's my horse, and I knew I wouldn't buy one until I did.
What I didn't realize was that in my search for a horse, I was conducting another search, a much older one connected to my first memories of a horse as a traumatized six-year-old dealing with the death of her mother and the disappearance of her father. Into that gaping void had stepped Bunty, a gift from Grandmother Richards, who must have known she was throwing me a lifeline, the only one she had in her limited ability to nurture but, as it turned out, the best anyone could have offered. My reaction had been immediate and visceral, a heart-pounding recognition that I was in the presence of something wonderful beyond belief, the most spontaneous outpouring of love I had ever felt. In that moment I became someone else, someone who was more than just a girl who'd lost her home and parents. I became a girl who loved that pony. I became a girl who loved horses.
Twenty-four years later, traumatized by a battering husband and a growing sense of shame about my drinking, I was in need of another lifeline. And of all the ways in which I might have searched for help, turning toward horses had been instinctive. I wasn't just looking for any love; I was looking for that love, that first involuntary spasm that jolted my five-year-old heart back to life at the sight of a Shetland pony named Bunty.
I hadn't expected to find my horse that fall day. As I headed down the dirt drive looking from pasture to pasture, I saw many healthy, well-bred equines, but not one of them “spoke” to me. The drive ended at several large red barns, all in...
"This is not only a horse story but a ‘drunkalogue’ in which the alcoholic tells what drinking was like, what happened to cause her to stop, and what recovery is like now. Animal lovers and recovering alcoholics will be inspired by this story." —Library Journal
"Reading this book was like having an unflinchingly honest talk with a close friend about her struggle for meaning and hope after a devastating relationship and descent into alcoholism. It took a horse to give Susan the strength to change. When no human could have reached her injured soul, Susan Richards found healing in the form of her horse, who had no judgments of her and offered the profound love and companionship that can only be found with an animal. This book is a testament to the transforming power of animals in our lives; it was also impossible to put down." --Stacey O'Brien, author of Wesley the Owl"Can a book be both looking glass and richly colored animal portrait? In Saddled, Susan Richards performs dual literary magic by giving us the history of a horsewoman retrieving her life from the bottom of the wine glass, and a mirror in which the sensitive reader will see herself again and again. Except that most of us could never duplicate Richards's emotional courage--not to mention delightful humor. Her clarion words reflect a stone honesty that is truly rare. I loved every sentence in this superlative memoir." --Melissa Pierson, author of Dark Horses and Black Beauties
"Saddled is a searingly honest portrait of addiction and the redemptive power of animal-human love." --Ted Kerasote, author of Merle's Door"Susan Richards masterfully weaves together her compelling story of life lived on the edge with vivid accounts of a horse who gives her reasons to live and ultimately to thrive. She conveys with unflinching honesty the ways her horse Georgia influenced every decision and made reaching every milestone possible. Horse lovers will relate to their healing connection; people who know little about horses will be amazed at the benefits that occur when a horse and human forge bonds of unfailing trust and loyalty." —Allen and Linda Anderson, founders of the Angel Animals Network and authors of Horses with a Mission and Angel Horses
"Susan Richards writes with no sentimentality and great lucid beauty about love: love between humans and creatures, love between broken people whose mending lies in acceptance of their injuries and their willingness to embrace a difficult hope." —Mary Sojourner, author of Solace: Rituals of Loss and Desire and the forthcoming She Bets Her Life: A True Story of Gambling Addiction
"Saddled is a remarkable memoir of love, loss and ultimate healing. Anyone who has ever adored an animal will understand that many healers come to us on four legs. It was thrilling to watch the author’s life transform as her love for her horse teaches her how to love herself." —Sharyn Wolf, author of Guerilla Dating Tactics and How to Stay Lovers For Life
"The unconditional love our animals feel for us is precious, but as Susan Richards so beautifully illustrates in her new memoir, it is the unconditional love we feel for our animals that can change our lives. This simple love can bring out the best in us, and as Saddled proves, to care responsibly for another creature, we must first begin to care responsibly for ourselves. This is an inspiring, life-changing book." —Abigail Thomas, author of A Three Dog Life
"Saddle up and enjoy the ride with Susan Richards. You'll love it." -- Rita Mae Brown
"Chosen by a Horse contained hints of a childhood among wicked adults; Saddled fills in the details. When Susan Richards needed one sane place to stand against the stresses of a crazy world, her Morgan horse, Georgia, was there to show her that loving an animal grounds you in a way that nothing else can." —Sharon Sakson, author of Paws & Effect: The Healing Power of Dogs
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