Chosen by a Horse

Chosen by a Horse

by Susan Richards

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780156031172
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 06/04/2007
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 109,654
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

SUSAN RICHARDS has a B.A. in English from the University of Colorado and a master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University. She lives with her husband Dennis Stock and their beloved gang of four dogs and one Siamese cat.

Read an Excerpt


IT WAS A cold March day and the horse paddock at the SPCA was full of mud. I stood shivering at the fence in the drizzle as my breath billowed gray mist over the top rail. In my hurry to get there I’d left the house without a hat or gloves, grabbing only a windbreaker from its hook above the basement stairs on my way to the garage.
 If I had stopped to think, I would have responded as I usually did when hearing a plea for help for animals sick and suffering at the hands of humans: I might have done nothing, or I might have sent a check. But this time when my friend Judy called to tell me the SPCA had just confiscated forty abused horses from a Standardbred farm and needed help housing them, I ran for my jacket and jumped in the car.
 I don’t know why this time was different, why in an instant I chose to do something I’d previously avoided. I was not accustomed to going to the rescue. Mine was never the face friends saw smiling over them as they woke up in the hospital after surgery. I wasn’t the one they called to drive them to get their stitches out or to pick up the results of lab tests or X-rays or anything medical. I had a horror of sickness, my own or anyone else’s.
 With such an aversion to illness, why was I standing at the fence watching twenty emaciated broodmares with their foals stumble in the mud? Why did I answer that call? Perhaps it was just a knee-jerk reaction to a deep and abiding love of horses, a love passed down to me by my grandmother, a formidable, sometimes cruel woman who had become my guardian when I was five. As always, I cringed when I remembered my grandmother, and at the same time I envied her a now-vanished world full of ocean liners, Pullman cars, and best of all, horses. When I was growing up, there were still carriages and odd bits of harness in the stable at her home in South Carolina, lovely old carriages that hadn’t been driven in thirty years. I’d look at them and feel cheated that I hadn’t lived in a time when horsepower provided the only means of transportation.
 In my grandmother’s attic was a trunk full of riding clothes, hers and her mother’s: brown leather field boots that laced up the front, handmade in England; wool tweed riding jackets with leather buttons and small tailored waists; linen breeches with leather leg patches; and wide-hipped jodhpurs with fitted calves.
 There was also a coachman’s heavy wool livery with silver buttons engraved with an H for Hartshorne, my grandmother’s maiden name and my middle name.When I was six or seven I’d go through the contents of this trunk, carefully lifting out the brittle fabrics with the frayed edges and the disintegrating linings, and once, one of the coach-man’s buttons came off in my hand. I turned it over and on the back it said Superior Quality. 

 I put the button in my pocket, and thirty-five years later it hung on the bulletin board above my desk at home. It’s small and round and evokes more images than a feature-length film. One touch and I’m tugged into a world full of horses and carriages circa 1900: traffic jams of horses, horses broken down, horses parked at the curb, horses eating lunch, horses whose coats shine like the waxed paneling of the Knickerbocker Club on Fifth Avenue, and horses as shaggy as schnauzers. A perpetual horse show: every day, everywhere, all the time.
 It was my grandmother who had given me my first horse when I was five.
 “Her name is Bunty,” my grandmother proclaimed, handing me the lead line as she herself marched out of the pasture, leaving me alone with my new pony.
 Standing at the other end of the lead, I squinted up at a fat white body slung between two sets of shaggy legs with a tail that swept the ground at one end and dark narrowed eyes under thick lashes at the other. It was like leaving me alone with a chain saw. I knew I was in mortal danger, but I was holding a horse. My horse.The best thing that had ever happened to me. I wish I could say I was a natural from the start.That I hoisted myself onto her back and, with a willow twig for a crop, went for a wild gallop around the field. But the truth is, I had no idea what to do. I stood trembling in my pink sundress, staring at the pretty pony until she lunged forward and removed some of the baby fat packed around my upper arm.
 It never got much better than that, not with Bunty. I loved her anyway: blindly, doggedly, through years of her biting, kicking, and embarrassing me in horse shows by sitting down and refusing to enter the show ring, or refusing to leave it. Occasionally her foul mood lifted and she was a pleasure to ride, but most of the time she brought me to tears. At ten I was given a Morgan gelding named Alert and was shocked to discover that a horse could be gentle and affectionate. I hadn’t realized what a hostage I’d been and, beginning with Alert, developed a lifelong love of Morgans.
 Now when I walked into my barn, I walked into timelessness: the coachman’s button evoking the distant past, my childhood, the present—all merged into one panorama of horses. I already owned three horses, and the time I spent with them wrapped around my day like brackets, the same beginning and ending no matter what happened in the middle. I worried, since turning forty, since I’d developed a bad back.What if I got too weak to take care of my three horses, a mare and two geldings? What if I got too stiff, what if I got too old? My next-door neighbor, Henry, had owned twenty-five dairy cows. He loved every single one like a daughter. Sometime in his late seventies he got old.Arthri-tis twisted his fingers, and emphysema stole his breath. For a year he crawled on his hands and knees from cow to cow to get the milking done. He hid his face behind his swollen hands and wept the day the big cattle trailer came to take away his herd. From time to time I had feared that something similar might happen to me. And yet, I stood, waiting to take on the care of yet another horse, one in desperate need of a home.
 A man stood beside me at the fence, an SPCA volunteer named Ted, who had helped confiscate these horses. After I’d signed the necessary papers, agreeing to foster a mare, he’d come outside with me to help find and then herd her into the trailer for the drive to my farm.Ted was hatless and coatless, in blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt, splattered with mud from his leather work boots to his unshaven chin. His brown ponytail hung dark and wet, coiled between his shoulder blades. Ted wiped at the raindrops gathering on his wire-rimmed glasses, smearing wet lines across thick bifocals. He wore a small gold stud in one ear and when I moved closer to look at the list he had pulled from his back pocket, I smelled nicotine. He traced a thick, nail-bitten index finger down the computer printout and stopped at number ten.  
 “Here she is.” He tapped the paper. “Current Squeeze.”
 It was a strange way to acquire a horse, sight unseen, by choosing an appealing name off a Seized Merchandise list from the Ulster County Sheriff’s Department.The entire situation was strange. I knew nothing about Standardbreds beyond the fact that they were long-bodied, harness-racing horses, sometimes called trotters because they raced at a trot. I wouldn’t have known what to look for beyond general good health and a pleasant temperament, neither of which was relevant in this situation. The closest I’d ever come to a Standardbred had been the occasional high-speed glimpse of a brown face looking out the window of a horse trailer as it sped down the thruway on its way to the track with one of the graceful-looking racing carriages called a sulky strapped to the top.


Copyright © 2006 by Susan Richards 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. 

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777. 

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Chosen by a Horse 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 130 reviews.
Cherilynn_R More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. It is written beautifully. I recommend it to horse lovers and non-horse lovers. I'm now reading Chosen Forever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have loved horses for as long as I can remember. Having one was never an option unless I would have boarded it somewhere, which would have left somone else taking care of it. I so understand Susan. Unless someone has been repeatedly hurt by people they have no idea how loving animals so completely is their way of life are how much animals teach one how to begin to love and trust people. I was there my whole life. There have been many kinds of animals over the years. Just never got a real horse instead of the imaginary one I would ride everywhere as a child. Like Susan alcohol was present in my life and lost many people because of it. I'm now a late to have a horse, but I have friends now who do and are only to glad to share. I have always felt God out did Its-self when the horse was created. They take my breath away. I feel close to Susan because of this story and wish I could spend time with her.
SMGBee More than 1 year ago
I love this book! It truly made me look at my life and be honest with myself about what I wanted. I was a lot like Susan, terrified of relationships, but hearing her story and understanding her bond made me look at my life a lot closer. Like Susan, I was able to have an amazing realtionship with a horse named Marley. I definately recommend this for anyone struggling with relationships, but also anyone who loves horses and understands or wants to understand the amazing bond between human and horse! I cant wait to read the next two books!
TJ0721 More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book about the special relationship between a woman and a horse who captured her heart. The story is proof that animals can be good for the soul. I wanted to read the book quickly but didn't want it to end. Now I'm looking forward to reading "Chosen Forever."
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book so much! I laughed, cried, and thought so many deep thoughts while reading this beautifully written memoir. We make life's simple lessons so complicated. Leave it to the animals to teach us about humanity!
cequillo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For anyone who has a love for horses, has felt the bonds and exhilaration such a love can bring, this book should not be missed. Richardson has given horse lover's something to treasure in the words in this book. Highly recommended.
lorielibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lovely read for we learn from our horses, even about death. Keep the Kleenex handy
teddy380 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best books i have ever read. I have read it multiple times, wich I never do. Especially considering I don't own it. Woch I'm going to change that......
hitchcockbe44 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book! I can so relate to the rescue of a horse as well as healing from caring for and interacting with a horse. I laughed and cried right along with Susan on her journey. A really great read!
Whisper1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Simply stated: This book took my breath away. Written with humor, poignancy, candor, and clear, crisp poetic style, the author takes us on a wonderful journey regarding the redemptive power of love.There are times in life when we spontaneously, unexpectedly break out of character, when previous behaviors are uncautiously thrown to the wind and afterward we ask ourselves -- What just happened?It was fate that brought Susan Richards and an abused horse together. When the local SPCA posted a SOS plea asking the public to assist with 40 recently confiscated malnourished, poor- in- health horses, uncharacteristically, Susan jumped in her car and drove to the SPCA.When a severely emaciated mare named Lay Me Down walked into her horse trailer, tiny foal behind, Susan knew it was not she who chose which horse to adopt, but indeed she was chosen.Susan knew pain and abandonment. Her mother died when she was five; her father then left for a life of booze and denial. Susan was shifted to homes of relatives who clearly thought her a burden. Abused and unwanted, knowing love hurt too much, Susan learned to build a wall where pain could not touch.Then, at 43, after a broken marriage and recovery from alcoholism, a broken horse helped a broken hearted woman, the rescuer was rescued and the wounded horse helped a wounded owner to find the strength to risk and dare to love.When the horse developed a tumor, the author knew that Lay Me Down had created a space wherein the horse and her childhood merged forcing her to learn that risking love, in all the beauty and potential sorrow, takes strength and courage and creates a gift that keeps right on giving.Highly recommended. I believe you will laugh, you will cry and this is a story that will hold your heart for a while.
traceydanine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was beautifully written an was much more than a "horse story". It was the story of a women in her 40's finally learning to face fears and enjoy life.
gypsyhomebody on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I got this book to read on the plane during an up-coming trip. I couldn't wait to read it, so I read it before the trip. I am so glad I did. I bawled like a newborn baby. It is so real. I am a horse-lover, however, I don't feel like this only appeals to horse people. This book is about a woman who goes through some of the toughest times of her life and the horse who is with her during it all. What she learns from the horse, is inspiring.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I bought this book for my wife for Christmas, but I read it first. (She still hasn't.) It's a very well-told story about a woman who lost her mother as a child, then suffered abandonment, abuse, neglect and an all-around lack of love throughout her youth. As an adult she lost herself in happy hours, alcoholism and promiscuity, followed by a bad marriage that ended in divorce. Finally, through AA, a few good friends, and an innate love of animals, particularly horses, she gets herself straightened out and begins to learn how to love herself again. In other words everything you need for a good potboiler of a book. But instead Susan Richards chooses to examine her life carefully. The catalyst for doing this is an abused horse she rescues, a special horse who seems to return Richards' unconditional love in kind. The horse, Lay Me Down, is a Black Beauty for the 21st century, that rare animal who endures man's cruelties and gives back love in return. And helps a damaged lonely woman to finally come to understand that she is capable of loving and of being loved. Geeze, this sounds almost too corny, but it's what just came out when I started writing this, so ...? I also found it interesting that Richards ended up a Social Worker, since it seems so many abused and mistreated women finally end up in this profession. Is it because they feel they've been through it all and so can do some good for others who have suffered the same kind of stuff? I don't know. Now I've gone and broken the spell of that fine review I started. What the hell. This is a damn good book, and one of the best "horse books" I've read since Molly Gloss's lovely novel, Hearts of Horses. Read 'em both.
ksr611 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best books i have ever read. I could read it 20 times if I need 2
ladycato on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an approachable and fast memoir that most any animal lover would enjoy. Susan Richards had a lot of baggage, but by the time she entered her 40s she regarded herself as an independent woman in control of her life. She had conquered the alcohol addiction that dominated her for decades. She shed an abusive husband and family. But when she agreed to take care of an abused mare and foal, she got more than she bargained for. The mare, Lay Me Down, had every right to hate humans, but she didn't. She looked on Susan with trust and faith, and Susan felt her old protective barriers begin to fall. But barriers exist with a reason, and soon Susan would need to face the truth: with love comes vulnerability, but it is still worthwhile.I was surprised at how gently this book flowed. It felt like stream-of-consciousness, progressing from memory to memory without me even fully realizing how far the story strayed. Susan had a very difficult life, and she is very honest about what she endured and also what she brought on herself. Her relationship with Lay Me Down and other horses, even the impetuous Morgan Georgia, reveal a lot about her and her maturity. This is really a book about love, life, death, and how a person is never to old to learn and grow wise.
acook on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is primarily about the author¿s relationship with her horses, particularly her most recently rescued one, but also includes some biographical sections, detailing her abusive childhood and alcoholic young adulthood. It is at times touching, amusing and informational about horses. I enjoyed it at all those levels. In our family, it has to be given the dreaded ¿HD¿ rating (Horse Dies). Beware if that bothers you. But you sort of know it¿s coming, and it¿s handled very tenderly. But get your hanky ready.
sally8658 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a great story about how animals can teach us a lesson about being caring.
Pandababy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Author Susan Richards deeply touched my heart with her memoir, originally published in 2006. Subtitled "How a broken horse fixed a broken heart", she tells the story of Lay Me Down, an abused race horse that she adopted, and how, in the process of healing the horse, the horse healed her.I liked the matter-of-fact way Susan gradually reveals the emotional and physical abuse she suffered as a child, and the lack of self-pity in her narrative. She dwells not on her past but on the healing process and her life with her horses.Richards makes no excuses for her alcoholic and promiscuous youth, nor for her divorce or her decade of anti-social isolation. She acknowledges the damage and focuses on her gradual recovery, driven by her love for her horses and in particular, the mare she rescued.I avoid most memoirs of an abusive childhood or marriage. I dislike reading the details of someone else's pain, and too frequently, such books are riddled with excuses and blame. I marvel that Susan Richards manages to escape those traps, and consider it clear proof that her broken horse truly did fix her broken heart. Her story is upbeat but relentlessly honest, a combination irresistible to me.Richards integrates her painful childhood, chaotic youth and angry adult years to reveal a charming, mature woman capable of deep friendship and compassion, love and generosity of spirit, but not a soft person, rather, a woman of strength and courage of the most rare kind - with the courage to face herself and her history, her feelings and hopes, with unflinching honesty and acceptance.Books are my friends, have been my friends all my life. Chosen by a Horse is very good friend indeed, the kind that wears well and demonstrates qualities I want to imitate in my own life, the kind of friend that makes me a better person than I would be without them.
CarolynSchroeder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a surprisingly wonderful, honest memoir about how one reluctant rescuer was chosen a horse who saved her life - not the other way around, like it was supposed to be. That said, Richards DID foster, and then adopt, "Lay me Down" after the horse's life of misery at the hands of a breeder/hoarder (then acquisition by the SPCA); and she spoiled that horse with the love and care she never had. The wonder of this book is what the author learns from this gentle soul of a horse and how she grows, so I do not want to say much and "spoil" the beauty of that unfolding. While a sad book, it is also a hopeful one. I believe anyone (but particularly women) who has had a rough past/childhood/marriage/relationship and loves animals will get a lot out of this parallel lives story. It's also a quiet one about the wisdom of choosing sobriety and facing the problems of life, through love and hope, and not escape, despite how hard that might be. Highly recommended.
FionaCat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The beautiful but sad story of how the author rediscovered her capacity to love while taking care of a terminally ill mare rescued from an abusive owner. Lay Me Down is one of the sweetest horses you will ever meet between the pages of a book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Everyone faces love and loss. The author shares her journey in a relatable fashion, Truly enjoyed the book! Relatable .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful story about the loving bond between a horse and its owner.
Maxlynn More than 1 year ago
An astonishingly beautiful memoir of the love of the shared between a woman and her horse - of love and loss.  How the gentle love of the magnificent heart of a horse can change us and turn us into something better than we had ever imagined. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well im a horse person
Anonymous More than 1 year ago