A Community of the Horse: Partnerships. Bruce Smart. Lost Mountain Graphics. P.O. Box 1590, Middleburg, VA 20118. 471 pp. Illus. 2003. $75.00.
Middleburg, Va., certainly isn’t the only town in the United States where the horse is king. But it does happen to be where author Bruce Smart has lived for the past several decades. Other equestrian-rich communities–places like Unionville, Pa., Peapack/Gladstone, N.J., Lexington, Ky., So. Hamilton, Mass., Southern Pines, N.C., and Aiken, S.C.–should be so lucky as to have someone with the interest and ability to record what makes them special communities to those of us who own and ride horses.
Each of these towns claims a number of attributes that have long made them attractive and functional to people with horses. Relative proximity to a major city is the first prerequisite. (Lexington is the only horse town that violates this rule–it’s its own city.) Each has a peculiar topography or climate that makes it conducive to riding and keeping horses, but they usually attract participants in just one or two horse sports.
Birds of a feather flocking together. Middleburg and the surrounding area is home to an extremely wide cross-section of horse sports, and Smart describes nine or 10 of them. Middleburg, which was founded in 1787, had become a center for foxhunting by the early 20th century and for steeplechasing, the reason the two men who founded the Chronicle in 1937 set up shop in town. And the Upperville Colt & Horse Show has been an equine destination for 150 years. But in the past two decades or so, the area’s climate and open, rolling terrain, along with its proximity to so many competitions, have attracted others, especially eventers.
All four members of the 2000 Olympic three-day team live near Middleburg. Smart’s greatest contribution, though, is that he’s talked to an amazing variety of horse people. Have you ever noticed the tunnel vision people in one horse sport get about their own little world, so much so that they don’t even realize a legend in another lives just down the road? Well, you’ll meet them in this book, literally. I say literally because Smart tells his subjects’ stories almost entirely in their own words. It’s kind of like meeting them at a show or in the hunting field and asking them to tell you all about themselves.
He’s talked to hundreds of the locals, many of whom he already knew well. But, like a good reporter, he set out to find dozens and dozens more. This is the first of three volumes Smart plans to pen. He writes in the Introduction that volume 2 will investigate the effects these people have on the local economy, and volume 3 “will describe the institutions, art and literature that celebrate” the horse and the people around the horse, and the threats the modern world has imposed on that culture.
The Tevis Cup: To Finish Is To Win. Marnye Langer. The Lyons Press, P.O. Box 480, Guilford, CT 06437. 288 pp. Illus. 2003. $22.95.
Apparently this book is partly my fault. Marnye Langer has been covering the Tevis Cup–the Super Bowl of endurance riding–for the Chronicle since 1991. And every year she submits an article that’s at least three times too long to fit into the space we’d planned, forcing me to spend hours pruning her fact- and anecdote-filled text without ruining the narrative. In frustration, Langer remembers that one year I said to her, “Marnye, why don’t you just write a book?” And so she has.
You could subtitle the result “Everything you always wanted to know about the Tevis Cup but were afraid to ask,” or maybe “The Tevis Cup from A to Z.” Because it’s all there. Seriously, Langer has produced a precious history of this greatest of all endurance rides. She’s brought to life founder Wendell Robie, his influential and supportive family members, the people in and around Squaw Valley, Calif., he leaned on and cajoled to help him achieve his vision, and the characters who’ve won the race since it started in 1955. She even rounded up some wonderful photos of the trail, the winners and the people behind the scenes from the archives of the Western States Trail Foundation. And a 28-page appendix lists every rider who’s ever started the Tevis Cup.
Langer’s book will, of course, be of most factual interest to endurance riders, especially as it includes a map of the historical trail. But anyone who rides can gain an historical perspective on horse sport’s evolution, especially in the last half century, through the microcosm of this one ride, while getting to know some real characters and their horses, who excel at the single most challenging equestrian event in the world.
100 Best Ranch Vacations in North America. Gavin Ehringer. The Globe Pequot Press, PO Box 480, Guilford, CT 06347. 207 pp. Illus. $17.95.
If you’ve ever considered a trip to a “dude” (AKA guest) ranch and needed a source for information on riding getaways, then this book is your mother lode. It reviews top resort and guest ranches with activities for all ages and interests in 20 states and two Canadian provinces. While most ranches listed are in the West, a few are in Alaska, Hawaii, New York and North Carolina, and all offer different styles of accommodation and daily pursuits.
From working ranches with bunk beds, where vacationers choose to pitch in and experience life on a true working farm, to the beginner riding vacation or five-star spas with horses, Gavin Ehringer leaves no stone unturned. The book opens with a magnificent 14-page full color “photo essay” of selected ranches, tempting enough to make a would-be vacationer start packing right away. A brief introduction covers topics such as what to (and not to) pack and answers common questions asked regarding what’s included in the daily rate, children, horse programs and other activities.
Ehringer subsequently describes each of the 100 resorts within a two-page format that includes a description of the area, the lodging, guest profiles, details on riding activities and other amenities. A well-written section outlines meal policy, special programs, rates, dates of operation, directions, and “what’s nearby.” These paragraphs are most helpful in choosing a ranch that suits you and your companions’ needs and interests. Ehringer’s credentials as a “dude ranch” guide are substantial. He lives in Colorado and has worked as a wrangler on several ranches, including one mentioned in the book. He’s published articles in numerous western life-style magazines and authored the books Rodeo Legends and Rodeo In America. Additionally, he has contributed to guide books about Colorado ski resorts. This neatly organized book gives a good overview of what’s available for riding vacations. So if sitting in a saddle is your idea of a great getaway, read the book, choose the ranch and make the reservation. Then get ready to ride.