Horses have always been the salvation of Sarah Maslin Nir, who grew up having “the conversations with horses I longed to have with my family.” She felt like an outcast both at home and at her tony Upper East Side prep school, where, she says, “my accomplishments with horses were not currency of value to my high-pressure, high-power mother and father; horses weren’t Harvard degrees or newspaper bylines.”
With horses as her anchor, Nir eventually earned more than stellar bylines. As a New York Times reporter, she became a Pulitzer finalist for her yearlong investigation into New York City’s nail salon industry. Now, in Horse Crazy: The Story of a Woman and a World in Love With an Animal, she turns the investigative lens on herself, exploring why she and so many others share this equine obsession. Not surprisingly, her writing is energetic, exquisite and enthralling enough to appeal to both horse fanatics and more casual readers alike.
Reminiscent of Susan Orlean’s ‘The Library Book’ in its fascinating examination of a singular topic, this is an expertly crafted, wrenchingly honest memoir.
With chapters named after important horses in her life, Nir traces a love affair that began at age 2, when family lore has it that her parents put her on a horse in an attempt to get their frenetic little girl to sit still. Her Jewish father had escaped the Holocaust by posing as a Catholic child in Poland and later became chief of child psychiatry at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, among his many other accomplishments. Her psychologist mom became a TV personality, chatting with Oprah and co-writing books with her husband. With such busy parents and half brothers who resented her very existence, Nir turned to horses in both loneliness and awe.
As a city kid, Nir’s horseback riding experiences were far from typical. She honed her skills at Claremont Riding Academy, a vertical four-story stable in the heart of Manhattan where horses and riders trudge up and down ramps between riding rings and stalls. In high school, Nir served a stint as a mounted patrol officer in Central Park. Seamlessly woven among these personal accounts are a variety of additional narratives, such as Nir’s trip to watch the annual pony penning at Assateague Island, Virginia, a chat with horse whisperer Monty Roberts and a mind-blowing horse show for plastic Breyer horses. Nir wears her heart on her sleeve for anything equine-related but also keeps it real, admitting she tries hard “to avoid cat lady status when it comes to horses.”
A series of accidents, broken bones and chronic pain hasn’t kept Nir away from riding, which she says is discounted as an extreme sport because its participants are predominantly female. “I’ll never stop,” she writes. “I’m extreme too.” For her, the sport creates “an interspecies bridge that . . . leaves the two halves greater than a whole.”
Reminiscent of Susan Orlean’s The Library Book in its fascinating examination of a singular topic, Horse Crazy is an expertly crafted, wrenchingly honest memoir.