4.6 24
by Judy Reene Singer

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Patty got up to peer into the refrigerator. “Honey, don’t look so guilty,” she said. “Men are like horses. If they’re even-tempered and sweet, you stay on for the ride. If they buck and run around, you get off before you get hurt.” She slammed the refrigerator door. “Damn, we’re out of cake.” --from Horseplay:


Patty got up to peer into the refrigerator. “Honey, don’t look so guilty,” she said. “Men are like horses. If they’re even-tempered and sweet, you stay on for the ride. If they buck and run around, you get off before you get hurt.” She slammed the refrigerator door. “Damn, we’re out of cake.” --from Horseplay: A Novel

A debut novel full of sparkle and wit, Horseplay is a story of the animals that touch our hearts… and the men who try our souls.

When Judy Van Brunt finally decides to leave her cheating husband, she makes immediate plans to quit her teaching job, take the money she inherited from her mother, and run off, leaving a note on her husband's pillow. There is only one problem: Where is she going?

During her weekly riding lesson, her instructor makes a suggestion just crazy enough to work—and before she knows it, Judy has a position as a groom at an exclusive North Carolina horse farm. There, she shares an apartment with three remarkable women who also work at the farm, and she puts in long hours caring for the horses in addition to learning the demanding sport of dressage from the farm’s owner, a former Olympic champion. Exhausted but fulfilled, she learns for herself that a horse in the barn is worth far more than a husband at home. Her housemates gladly supplement her education with lessons not found in the riding ring, such as how to avoid the farm’s snootier patrons and weed out unsavory suitors. Her devotion to horses is far more rewarding than her marriage ever was—after all, horses never lie or cheat, and even the most hot-blooded stallion won't kick her when she's down.

Nevertheless, her new life doesn't keep her away from men entirely. She finds her early vow of chastity and cheeseburgers weakening as she is drawn to one especially eligible bachelor. But after a few escapades with studs of the two-legged variety, is she really ready to be with someone?

Set against the alternately glamorous and grimy world of competitive horse shows, Horseplay is a jubilant ride.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A sprightly comic tone and a North Carolina horse farm make for a bit more than just another silly romance. Judy van Brunt, 33 and a high-school English teacher, decides that her husband Marshall's newest affair is the last straw and takes off. First, she checks in with her sister Ruth to let her know she's leaving (she dubs Judy "Saint Ruth of the Perfect Life," a woman who serves "fabulous scones from a secret-source bakery whose location she was reluctant to share"). Always happiest at her weekly riding lessons, Judy takes a job as a working student for Katarina Rheinboldt, a German-born Olympic trainer, and in short order is mucking-out stalls and learning how to handle the brood mares. Newcomer Singer is at her strongest in the details of this work-the spills and tumbles in learning to ride top-level horses, the social hierarchy of the dormitory (some boarders are wealthy horsewomen, others working students like Judy), the competitive ring and the fundraisers. Judy transcends her position as groom when she attracts the attentions of Speed Easton, wealthy lawyer and horse-breeder. The two have a fling, and Judy is drawn to him until he tries to involve her in a mysterious midnight cult ritual, when she spurns him and turns to a series of spectacular but difficult horses. Her husband tracks her down and, through a series of mishaps, ends up shot to death by her dorm-mate's daughter. They hadn't divorced, so now Judy has money enough to buy a horse for herself. But her favorite falls on top of her, leaving her with a concussion and a broken leg. The local orthopedist, a dreamy doctor who dislikes horses, becomes her new love interest, forcing Judy to choose between her love of horsesand her love of the doctor. Lots of galloping plot strands keep this bit of folderol racing along. Agent: Jane Gelfman/Gelfman Schneider

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

When you're running away from a bad marriage, Willie Nelson is the music of choice. His voice has just the right nasal, reedy, twangy quality, which encourages singing along, as well as making it okay for an occasional self-indulgent splash of tears to roll down your cheeks. I was driving to North Carolina and listening to "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," and although my eyes are green, it did actually pour the day I left my blue-eyed husband, Marshall.

Marshall and I had been together eight years. He had had three affairs. I had forgiven him twice. And it was about four months after his last fling that the realization struck me: I had been far more gracious than any woman had a reason to be. I was tapped out. Not only did I no longer love him, but the way he walked annoyed me, the color of his hair annoyed me, his ears annoyed me, the fillings in his teeth, the air he exhaled--all had become intolerable. I had begun to hate him, and found myself spending alarmingly more frequent moments planning his dramatic and imminent demise. There was choking, electrocution, car accidents, hanging, knifing, head wounds, poisoning . . . well, it wasn't a good omen for our relationship, and I made my decision.

The first one I told was Ruth, my older sister. Saint Ruth of the Perfect Life, as I had always thought of her, was horrified. We were having our weekly ritual of coffee and fabulous scones from a secret-source bakery whose location she was reluctant to share, since Ruth always likes to have the best of everything, as well as exclusive rights to it. I dropped my news.

"I am leaving Marshall," I casually mentioned. She choked on a mouthful of fabulous scone.

"What did you say?" She wheezed crumbs at me from across the table, trying to compose her lungs.

"I said, 'I am leaving Marshall.' "

She looked alternately alarmed and sympathetic, but I could see in her eyes that she was secretly pleased with my news. Now she would have the best marriage. She recovered quickly.

"Are you sure you want to do that?"


"Why don't you let Henry prescribe something for you? You're probably just going through . . . something."

Henry, her husband, was a psychiatrist, and like many psychiatrists, he was more of a pharmacist than a therapeutic patch maker of holes in the psyche.

"Jesus, I finally come to my senses, and you want to drug me out of them again?"

"Not drug--just to calm you down a little, restore some tranquillity, so you can think clearly. Just view it merely as a misdirected discharge of his sex glands. All he did was fuck some woman!"

"Three women--that I know about. There could be a line around the block where his office is."

Ruth tapped her manicured fingers on the gleaming granite countertop.

"They all fuck around. Live with it, darling. He was a great catch."

"I can't live with it."

"It would break Mother's heart."

She was not above firing off her ultimate weapon. Citing our mother was the one thing she could always count on to sweep me back into line. She always used it, whether it was the time I wanted to get engaged to a handsome illiterate named Bolt, or when I ran off to try my hand at Clown College before Real College. Ruth knew my weak spot: I was on an eternal quest to find the ultimate mother figure. One who would guide and comfort me and share some of the burden of my having been put on earth without consultation. And the fact that Ruth was older than I and had spent more time with our mother bestowed upon her, she felt, a certain cachet and authority, which I always acquiesced to.

Except this time, it wasn't working.

"Mother's been dead for ten years," I said. "She doesn't care anymore."

"Mother liked Marshall."

"Mother needed better taste in men."

Ruth rolled her eyes heavenward, as though looking for a conciliatory vision from Mother.

"How can you end a marriage so casually?" She poured us more coffee.

"I'm not being casual at all."

"And how were you planning to tell him?" she continued. "Marshall's so . . ." She trailed off vaguely.

She could have finished with any number of descriptive adjectives: nasty, controlling, selfish, lying, cheating . . .

"Vulnerable" was what she finally said. I never would have thought of vulnerable.


"I think it's his blue eyes."

"I am going to leave him a note pinned to my pillow," I said. "He's going to find it after I'm gone. Now promise me you'll keep your mouth shut."

She sighed and blinked twice. I took it for a yes, finished the last of my fabulous scone, and left her fabulous house.

And that's how I left him. Of course, after waiting a few weeks.

First and most important, I needed a place to go. Second, I would have to quit my job of rendering high school students comatose by trying to instill the wonders of the English language. And last, I needed to take stock of my worldly possessions and then cull them down to a box or two that would fit neatly into the back of my little Mazda.

That first one was going to be a bit tricky.

I was thirty-three. And a tad overweight. Okay, chunky. With no devouring passions in life except cheeseburgers, chocolate, and my weekly horseback-riding lessons, a holdover from childhood and college. There were no promising adventures looming on the horizon, no ambitious plans. I just wanted somewhere else.

It was at my riding lesson that lightning struck and gave me the rest of my plan.

I was grooming Sunny, the old Palomino that I usually rode. Like me, he was a dirty blonde, overweight, and given to brief naps and wobbly knees. I loved pushing the brush across his faded yellow hair, rubbing in slow, round circles, grooming his cellulite-covered body. Now his eyes fluttered closed, his breathing grew deep and sonorous, and he buckled to the ground.

"Come on, Judy, don't let him do that," Mickey, my instructor, chided as Sunny leapt once again to his feet and gave an embarrassed snort. "You know enough to smack him when he gets sleepy."

While resuming my grooming routine, which now included brushing and smacking, shouting Sunny's name into his ear so he would stay alert enough to remain vertical, I looked around and took a deep breath. It was wonderful to stand in the aisle of the old barn. The ritual grooming of horses while birds chirped at us from up in the rafters was almost hypnotic. It occurred to me that I was happiest here. Happy to help Mickey muck the horse shit out of the stalls, happy to carry the backbreaking sixty-five-pound bales of hay and fifty-pound bags of grain, happy to scrub the slime from the water buckets and fill them back up again with fresh water. There was a peace and a sense of timelessness, a feeling of being insulated from the outside world. I took a deep breath. I loved the scent of horses, that warm, peculiar smell that only horses possess. And there was the horse equipment--the hard brush, the soft brush, the curry comb, the hoof pick--the way all of it lined up in plastic shoe-shine boxes, the sour leather smell, the comforting weight when I carried the bridle and saddle.

Most of all, I loved sitting on a horse.

That an animal weighing over a thousand pounds could be controlled with the touch of a leg or the movement of a hand was an amazing thing. Mickey was a good instructor and had made sure that the basics of riding were constantly emphasized: sitting correctly and quietly and in balance. I mounted Sunny and took him out back to the ring, where we picked up a slow, contemplative trot, with me doing the contemplating.

I was being too quiet.

"What the hell is going on?" Mickey finally asked me after my third excursion around the muddy ring. "You're usually chewing my ear off."

I told her.

"So, are you getting an apartment near your school?"

I hadn't planned to.

"Too bad you're not a kid." She shrugged. "I know an Olympic trainer who takes a few working students every year--they work their asses off, but she teaches them to ride to the top levels."

I stopped Sunny short for more information.

Mickey obliged, but she warned me that I was not a twenty-year-old kid. The work was hard, and besides, what was I going to do with all that training? It's not like there is a riding center in every strip mall, where I could earn a living teaching little girls to sit properly on ponies. It was an impractical thought, Mickey apologized, she had just thrown it out there. "You have to be crazy," she said, "to even think of interrupting your life at thirty-three to pursue something this outlandish."

Of course I wanted to hear more.

Katarina Rheinboldt was the trainer, Mickey explained, and her farm, Sankt Mai, was in North Carolina.

The whole thing was a preposterous, ridiculous notion, and I wrote Katarina as soon as I got home. Her answer came three weeks later in the form of a personal note tucked inside a brochure filled with photos of lithe young women on gleaming horses. She was willing to take a chance on me. There was also a page with a carefully drawn map. I was hooked.

I withdrew all the money Mother had left me, mentally reassuring her that it was for a good purpose, turned my resignation in at school, and started composing a note to Marshall. It was going to be brief and unsentimental. Something along the lines of "Buh-bye, and make sure you use condoms."

Another week was spent struggling to cram a lifetime's accumulation of clothes, books, and all my music tapes surreptitiously into two cartons and a suitcase. What didn't fit, including the old fox-fur coat that Marshall, never an animal lover, had given me, was taken over to Ruth to store in her basement.

She followed me down the stairs.

"You've gone crazy," she said more than once. "You're going to learn how to be a jockey? You're five foot eight, for chrissake, and I can't imagine what you weigh."

"It's only the freshman fifteen," I said defensively.

"You haven't been a college freshman for what? Fourteen years? And to think you always were the pretty one!"

"Are you trying to say that now I'm not the pretty one or the smart one?" I said. "Just because I fill out a B cup doesn't make me a family aberration."

"That wasn't my point. Why on earth would you want to take up riding? I mean, what comes next? Rock-and-roll camp?"

"I'm just going for the experience." I decided to stuff the fox coat into an old trunk next to her oil burner. "I don't know what I'll do after this. I can always teach high school again."

"And don't you have to be like three years old to begin this kind of training? Like ice-skaters?"

I stacked some books neatly in a corner.

"And there's the matter of money. What will you do for money?"

Apparently, she hadn't heard from Mother yet.

I kissed her good-bye and promised to call.

I put Willie into the tape deck and got ready to drive to North Carolina. It was twelve hours from Long Island, New York. I had a map, two hard-boiled eggs, and a couple of tuna sandwiches.

Me and Willie, we were ready.

* * *

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

A former high school English teacher with graduate degrees in psychology, JUDY REENE SINGER has been in love with horses since childhood. She has covered the equestrian world for more than a decade, writing for Dressage Today, Horse Play, and The Chronicle of the Horse, which named her a top feature writer in 1996. Her experience with horses ranges from saddle breaking to riding Grand Prix Dressage. She rides and writes in Orange County, New York.

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Horseplay 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This may be one of the funniest books I've ever read. As a rider of dressage and a former working student, I love the idea that the main character, as an adult, metaphorically runs off to join the circus. Although my experience was considerably different, the close bonds that form with other workers through hours and hours of thankless hard labor were well represented in this story. I've read this book 3 or 4 times and just recently re-purchased it again through Nook. It was just as funny and entertaining as the first time I read it!
horsegirl727 More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book! I couldn't put it down. I really enjoyed the story of Judy leaving her life behind to start a new one as a working student at a horse farm. It gives all of us in our 30s hope we might even be able to do such one day! I love horse books but it is hard to find really good adult horse stories. Look no further, this is it! It had me laughing out loud and in some parts I couldn't stop laughing! I hope she continues to write more books and I wouldn't mind a sequel to this one! Definitely worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A little hokey but worth reading if you're into horses.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down from the moment I started reading it. Truly heartwarming tale of friendship, the unbreakable bond between women and horses, love, healing, resilience, and determination. A great book for horse lover and non horse lover alike. Will definitely make you laugh
Guest More than 1 year ago
I hadn't read a book (other than to my kids) in over 10 years and found this to be so enjoyable that I bought two more to give as gifts to my other 'horsey' friends. I wrote to the author to tell her to please 'write more books soon!'
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is funny and realistic!!!!!!
Anonymous 7 days ago
I ride, so much of this was giggle out loud fun as it's happened to me as well. Gets you going, and of course, I read with a German accent as well. Light, fun read, very enjoyable.
Anonymous 5 months ago
This one has it all... tears, suspense, and true laugh out loud moments... great read.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a great read!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Picked up this book on a lark at the grocery store. It intrigued me because I grew up around horses, had just broken up with my boyfriend, and could relate to the story's theme. Once I started it I could not put it down, it was not a schmaltzy romance, it dealt more with the clique of women that had formed on the horse farm. Their adventures were hilarious, LOL type of hilarious. I hope this author will continue to write. My only complaint with this book was that the horses seemed viscious. I have lived and worked around horses (Western) and did not have a fraction of the injuries and physical calamities these women did. That was the only unrealistic part about this book, otherwise I heartily recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun, hilarious book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book. It is a great story about a topic I am obsessed with. A great story with horses mixed in is a winning book. It kept me laughing all the time and I didn't want it to end. Everyone in love with horses should read this book because it may cross some familiar territory. READ THIS BOOK!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time putting the book down. I was on break at work laughing. It was easy reading and enjoyable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You can't help but getting caught up in this breeze reading book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was instantly drawn to the characters both human and equine. Ms. Singer does a fantastic job incorporating the country life into Judy's city lifestyle. I absolutely loved the book and hope she continues to write. You won't be disappointed!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is so much fun:-). If you like horses and dressage, this is the book for you. It's funny, sad just all out good. Pick it up!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Horseplay is an excellent look at the characters inhabiting the horseworld. Judy Renee Singer makes the reader care as much about the animal characters as we do about the wonderful people who inhabit this book. Ms. Singer obviously knows that world and her descriptions are dead-on. A very funny, enjoyable read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a tried and true 'book-alcoholic' and this is one of the most humorous, well written, page turning, 'can't-wait-until- it's-5:00 (and the workday is done!) so-I-go-home-and-read' books I have ever, ever had the priviledge to read! Absolutely LOVED it! A definite MUST READ!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book and have shared it with all of my friends. I haven't laughed outloud like this while reading a book in years. How many times have we found ourselves in similer positions on a horse or coming off... I loved the way Ms. Singer captured a 'middle-aged' horse lovers feeling physically, emotionally and spiritually. You can't help but fall in love with all of her characters and feel you know them personally. A great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you like sassy independent characters and lots of horses with quirky personalities, this is the book for you. I read this in two hours and laughed my head off. Judy Singer reminds me of Janet Evanovich, but without the murder mystery part. Her characters are lovable, easy to identify with, and just plain fun. It'll keep you up long past your usual bedtime.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ms. Singer's debut novel Horseplay takes a clever, funny, look at friendship, family,and relationships. While other novels with a similar premise use the safety nets of backdrops like LA and New York, Ms. Singer has bravely centered her story in the dust and haybales of the dressage ring. Anyone who follows Judy Braun's hilarious adventures from Long Island to Olympian Katarina Reinbolt's North Carolina horse farm will find themselves in the company of the funniest and most colorful characters to ever ride across the page.