In RIDING BARRANCA, a remarkable new book from Trafalgar Square Books, author Laura Chester has explored and described her experiences riding and searching—for resolution, for the ability to forgive and be forgiven—in the most lucid of prose. A year’s journey on horseback in such diverse settings as Arizona, Massachusetts, Mexico, India, and Australia, spurs the release of memories both bitter and joyous as she struggles to deal with her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s Disease.
“The counterpoint of horses and family makes this book unusually satisfying,” writes Thomas Moore, bestselling author of Care of the Soul, in his foreword to the book. “This intrigue, the unanswered questions, the mysterious juxtapositions, are what makes this book, to me, a work of art.”
We caught up with Laura and asked her to share a little about her writing, her horses, and the personal journey that makes her newest book poignant, painful, and yet ultimately, liberating.
TSB: Horses, and obviously, one particular horse (Barranca) figure prominently in your new book. What is your history with riding and horses, and what is it about both that support human growth, or recovery from loss or trauma?
LCC: Riding has always been a big part of my life. My family kept a stable of varied horses, and growing up in the country with an extended family, we often took rides together. For the most part, we had little training, but we all managed to have good seats. I grew up riding in a relaxed manner, rather than entering into the pressures of the show ring. While I am a competitive person, I’m grateful that I took the trail ride route, exploring nature on horseback. I know that a ride will almost always put me in a good mood (especially when I’m on Barranca)—for me it is a way to find my center. I don’t know how or why riding and writing can help one “work it out.” Perhaps if one is quiet and connected, then you find yourself in the moment, in a kind of reverie where thoughts come and go—it is a healing process because of the balance between presence and absence.
TSB: Barranca is a Missouri Fox Trotter, one of four gaited horses you own. In your writing you often reference the soothing nature of your horse’s gaits. How is physical sensation an important part of emotional release?
LCC: I feel very lucky to have discovered gaited horses in my fifties. After having two unpredictable Thoroughbred-Warmbloods, who were prone to bolt if a wild turkey flew across the trail, I was ready for something more bomb-proof. I have had a bit of trouble with my back, and I didn’t want to struggle with a horse. I simply wanted to relax and enjoy my new geldings with their gliding gaits. Each of my horses moves differently, but I rarely have the feeling that any of them would hurt me. Perhaps that feeling of confidence and relaxation allows me to have more emotional release. If one is tense and worried the opposite seems to occur. I probably experience the most enjoyment while riding Barranca, because of our heart connection and the ease he makes me feel while in the saddle. How lucky I was to find him!
TSB: RIDING BARRANCA is really a kind of travel memoir, as you bring readers along on an emotional and personal journey, while also dealing with your mother’s failing health and your relationship with her. What is it that you think readers will most identify with in this journey?
LCC: Various non-riders have already read this book and responded to my descriptions of the natural world, to my relationship with animals and family. I hope that I can bring any reader into my realm. Certainly many women have struggled with their mothers—perhaps this relationship can be one of the most difficult—but what a joy it is to be able to let go of old grievances and find compassion. I think most people want family harmony, but what a rare thing it is! When you are telling the truth, you are bound to offend somebody, but that’s the risk a writer takes. Everyone has problems, flaws and conflicts—so there is a lot to identify with here. Certainly people who already love horses will be right at home in this book, and may recognize some of my own failings and mishaps, and will join me in the many delights.
Laura Chester has published many volumes of poetry, prose, and nonfiction. Most recently, a book of short stories, Rancho Weirdo, became available from Bootstrap Press. Editor of six anthologies, her latest collections are Eros & Equus and Heartbeat for Horses, both from Willow Creek Press, including extensive photographs by fashion photographer Donna DeMari. Indiana University Press published the nonfiction book, Holy Personal, about looking for small private places of worship, while Station Hill Press released an updated version of Lupus Novice, an account of Chester’s personal struggle and breakthrough with the auto-immune disease SLE. Other recent books include The Stone Baby and Bitches Ride Alone, Black Sparrow Press; The Story of the Lake, Faber & Faber; Kingdom Come, Creative Arts; and Sparks, The Figures. Having grown up in Milwaukee and Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, Chester now lives in Patagonia, Arizona, and the Berkshires of Massachusetts.
RIDING BARRANCA is available now.