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Chosen by a Horse (Richards)

Chosen by a Horse 
Susan Richards, 2006
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
256 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780156031172


Summary  
The horse Susan Richards chose for rescue wouldn’t be corralled into her waiting trailer. Instead Lay Me Down, a former racehorse with a foal close on her heels, walked right up that ramp and into Susan’s life. This gentle creature—malnourished, plagued by pneumonia and an eye infection—had endured a rough road, but somehow her heart was still open and generous.

It seemed fated that she would come into Susan’s paddock and teach her how to embrace the joys of life despite the dangers of living.

An elegant and often heartbreaking tale filled with animal characters as complicated and lively as their human counterparts, this is an inspiring story of courage and hope and the ways in which all love—even an animal’s—has the power to heal. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—N/A
Education—B.A. University of Colorado, M.S.W., Adelphi
   University (New York)
Currently—lives in Bearsville, New York

Susan Richards has a B.A. in English from the University of Colorado and a Master of Social Work degree from Adelphi University. She lives in Bearsville, New York and teaches writing at SUNY Ulster and Marist College. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
A sucker for horses and horse stories, I couldn't resist the beautiful face on the cover. It wouldn't matter if the writing inside were drivel. But it's not. Inside is a lovely story about redemption for both horse and human. Get the kleenex box.
A LitLovers LitPick (March '08)


The horse was Lay Me Down, a tall, scrawny, sick (with pneumonia), abused standardbred mare, with a hostile foal at her heels and a wheezing sigh. The human was middle-aged, also abused (both as a child and in a bad marriage), an AA veteran and the owner of three Morgan horses in upstate New York. The Morgan mare, Georgia, was furious about the new intruder, although, Richards writes, "I blamed myself for creating a monster, a monster named Georgia. All these years of spoiling her, of never allowing anyone else to ride her, of letting her boss me around...." Richards's first book is an engaging, honest and low-key memoir of her love affair with the sweet-natured Lay Me Down and her almost love affair with a fellow named Hank, with many digressions into horse lore as well as life lore. Charming and sensitive descriptions of fiery Georgia; the gallant, lovable old gelding, Hotshot; loyal friend and "horsewoman extraordinaire" Allie; and daily life with animals intersperse with the trials of dating and buying underwear. The end of neither affair is happy, but this is a bracing and likable book, highly recommended for backyard horsewomen and their admirers.
Publisher's Weekly


Psychotherapist and animal lover Richards (writing, Marist Coll., Poughkeepsie, NY) eloquently and movingly recounts her relationship with a horse. Hers is the story of how a removed, emotionally damaged person and an abused animal form a bond that is a godsend for both parties. The author, who normally avoids sick and dying animals and humans alike, agrees to rescue an ailing mare named Lay Me Down and nurses her back to health while marveling at how trusting, kind, and gentle she is despite having been neglected and abused by a former owner. Sadly, the mare develops cancer and eventually has to be euthanized. Though this death is heart-wrenching for Richards, her relationship with the mare has helped her regain the will to reconnect with people and to make important changes in her life. Patrons who like Lauren Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit: An American Legend), Jane Smiley (Horse Heaven), and Susan Nusser (In Service to the Horse: Chronicles of a Labor of Love) will love this book as well. —Patsy Gray, Huntsville P.L., AL
Library Journal


Affectionate memoir about an SPCA rescue horse fostered by a lonely social worker. Richards already owned three horses when she responded to a desperate plea from the SPCA asking for volunteers to foster abused mares and their foals. The mare she was given, Lay Me Down, was a lame, half-starved creature who "looked like a complicated wire coat hanger draped with a mud-caked brown pelt." The trusting mare, who had been valued at $100,000 at the height of her racing career some 12 years earlier, now walked with a pronounced limp in both front legs, and had painful arthritis in both rear hocks. Despite her history of injuries and abuse, Lay Me Down retained an affable temperament that deeply impressed her new owner, herself a survivor of childhood and domestic abuse. A little romance even enters the picture when Richards's gelding Hotshot courts the new arrival: "Their mutual attraction was instant and strong. . . . Together, they were a duet of contentment." Inspired by Lay Me Down's example, Richards decides to abandon her hermit-like ways and actually goes on a date: "If Lay Me Down could risk loving, so could I." All too soon, Richards realizes something is wrong with her new equine charge. One of Lay Me Down's eyes protrudes, and she is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. A trip to Cornell's veterinary hospital confirms the worst, leaving Richards to cling to the hope that Lay Me Down, who had been imprisoned for years in a dark stall, live till spring, and bask once more in the sun's warmth. A tender lesson in courage and dependence.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions 
1. How are Susan’s horses a substitute for a human family? What needs do they fulfill that people in her life cannot? Does Susan use her horses to escape from “real life” (the pressures of romantic relationships, loneliness, et cetera), or do they represent it?

2. How do Susan’s past struggles—the loss of her parents, her abusive childhood, her alcoholism, and her divorce—continue to affect her life on a daily basis so many decades later?

3. Susan often jumps around chronologically as she tells her story. What effect does this have on the reader and on the presentation of Susan’s life?

4. Susan’s friend Allie often accuses her of “anthropomorphizing” her animals. How do the horses in Susan’s paddock resemble human characters? What effect does this have on the power of her memoir? Does this literary technique place her memoir in line with other classic animal stories? Did this book remind you of any of your childhood favorites? In what ways?

5. Susan accuses Georgia of engaging in “rude” horse behavior, such as nudging her pockets looking for treats and blocking the other horses from entering the stable. Later Susan states, “If [Georgia] was a person I’d hate her” (page 226). Why do you think Susan indulges Georgia and allows this kind of behavior from her? What about Georgia’s personality makes her lovable as a horse but not as a person?

6. What function does Hank serve in Susan’s life? Would she have been better off if he had not called her six years later? If he had not been allergic to horses, would Susan have been able to commit herself to him as a partner?

7. Early on Susan states that “names are important to horse people” (page 6). When she initially imagines shouting Lay Me Down’s name across a pasture she feels that she has gotten a “loser” because “you couldn’t get a nickname out of it.” How do Susan’s feelings about her horse’s name change as her memoir progresses? How do you feel about Lay Me Down’s name by the close of the book?

8. What does Lay Me Down’s calm and trusting demeanor, even after a traumatic past (page 157), say about the “nature versus nurture” argument?

9. In what way do you feel the author was “chosen” by Lay Me Down? Could she have been chosen by another person, or another animal, and still have learned the same lessons about her life that she learns in this book?

10. Animals are often said to possess healing influences—some studies suggest that elderly people who keep pets have lower rates of heart disease, stroke, and depression. What do you think it is about animals that humans find so calming? Is this something humans can't provide for each other? Do you have a particular pet that seemed to have a special effect on you?

11. At the start of her memoir Susan speaks about her “aversion to illness”—her tendency to avoid hospitals, sickness, and “anything medical” (page 2). In caring for Lay Me Down she is forced to confront illness head on. How does this help Susan grow, heal, and come to terms with her past?

12. The death of a pet can always be traumatic for its owners. How was Lay Me Down's time with Susan Richards different from that of an average pet? How does Lay Me Down’s death affect Susan? Is this a normal reaction to the loss of an animal friend? If not, how and why?

13. What do you think the author has learned through the events described in the book? Would Susan’s life have been easier, and less painful, if she had avoided an emotional connection with a damaged horse? Can we arrange our lives in ways that help us to avoid suffering? If so, at what cost?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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