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Riding Lessons

Riding Lessons

3.9 188
by Sara Gruen

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As a world-class equestrian and Olympic contender, Annemarie Zimmer lived for the thrill of flight atop a strong, graceful animal. Then, at eighteen, a tragic accident destroyed her riding career and Harry, the beautiful horse she cherished.

Now, twenty years later, Annemarie is coming home to her dying father's New Hampshire horse farm. Jobless and abandoned,


As a world-class equestrian and Olympic contender, Annemarie Zimmer lived for the thrill of flight atop a strong, graceful animal. Then, at eighteen, a tragic accident destroyed her riding career and Harry, the beautiful horse she cherished.

Now, twenty years later, Annemarie is coming home to her dying father's New Hampshire horse farm. Jobless and abandoned, she is bringing her troubled teenage daughter to this place of pain and memory, where ghosts of an unresolved youth still haunt the fields and stables—and where hope lives in the eyes of the handsome, gentle veterinarian Annemarie loved as a girl . . . and in the seductive allure of a trainer with a magic touch.

But everything will change yet again with one glimpse of a white striped gelding startlingly similar to the one Annemarie lost in another lifetime. And an obsession is born that could shatter her fragile world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Like The Horse Whisperer, Gruen's polished debut is a tale of human healing set against the primal world of horses. The Olympic dreams of teenaged equestrian Annemarie Zimmer end when her beloved horse, Harry, injures her and destroys himself in a jumping accident. In the agonizing aftermath, she gives up riding and horses entirely. Two decades later, she returns to her family's horse farm a divorcee, with her troubled teenaged daughter, Eve, in tow. There, her gruff Germanic mother struggles to maintain the farm and care for Annemarie's father, who is stricken with ALS. Although Annemarie decides (disastrously) to manage the farm's business, her attention quickly turns to an old and ostensibly worthless horse with the same rare coloring as Harry. Her long-denied passion for riding reawakens as she tracks the horse's identity and eventually discovers it to be Harry's younger brother. She must heal both horse and herself as she struggles with her father's deterioration, Eve's rebellion and her attraction to both the farm's new trainer and her childhood sweetheart Dan. Impulsive and self-absorbed, Annemarie isn't always likable, but Gruen's portrait of the stoic elder Zimmers is beautifully nuanced, as is her evocation of Eve's adolescent troubles. Amid this realistically complex generational sandwich, the book's appealing horse scenes-depicted with unsentimental affection-help build a moving story of loss, survival and renewal. (Apr.) Forecast: Never underestimate the public's fascination with horses. Harper Torch certainly isn't; the house is launching Gruen's debut with an impressive 400,000-copy first printing. While this book isn't likely to be the next Seabiscuit, its striking cover image, featuring a silhouette of a wild horse, will help attract a broad spectrum of readers. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"...a moving story of loss, survival and renewal."
—Publisher's Weekly

“...so exquisitely written it's hard to believe that its also a debut.” [starred review]

“Reed's stellar performance makes Gruen's 2004 debut novel hard to turn off.”
Publishers Weekly

“...so exquisitely written it's hard to believe that its also a debut.” [starred review]

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Riding Lessons

By Gruen, Sara


ISBN: 0060580275

Chapter One

"Are you ready?" says Roger as he gives me a leg up, and I laugh, because I've never been so ready in all my life.

And Harry is, too, with his red neck flexed and his ears swiveling like antennae, but never together -- if one is forward the other is back, although sometimes they land impossibly out to the side, like a lop-eared goat's. He stamps and snorts as I lower myself into the saddle and gather the reins, and I forgive him, this time, for not standing still while I mount because while it's terrible manners there are extenuating circumstances and I, too, cannot be still. I run the reins across the black gloves that cover my wet palms and icy fingers and look back at my father, whose face is lined and stern, and then at Roger, who smiles up at me with his face a perfect composite of tension, pride, and joy.

He lays a hand on my booted calf and says, "Give 'em hell, babe," and I laugh again, because I have every intention of doing just that.

And then Marjory is leading us to the gate -- actually holding the reins, as though I can be trusted to take fences of almost five feet but not to steer Harry into the arena.

"Watch your pace going into the combination," she says, "and don't let him rush you. Collect him sharply coming around the turn after the water jump, and if you get past the oxer and you're still clear, hold him back and take it easy because you've already got it even if you take a time fault."

I nod and look across the arena at the judges because I know that already. We can take eight faults and still tie for first, and if we get none or four we've done it, and nobody else has a hope. Marjory is still talking and I nod impatiently and just want to start because Harry and I are going to explode with the excitement of it all, and we're ready, we're ready, oh, we're ready. But I know it's not Marjory who gets to decide so I try to remember to breathe and ignore her and suddenly it's easy, as though I'm in a wind tunnel and all of everything beyond Harry and me is on the outside.

Then I get the signal and I think that it's time to go -- think it, that's all -- and Harry goes, walking forward so deep on the bit his nose is pressed to his chest, and as we step into the arena I can see our shadow on the ground and his tail on end like a flag. The man on the PA introduces us -- Annemarie Zimmer on Highland Harry, with a commanding lead and yadda yadda yadda -- but no one's paying attention because they're staring at Harry. No gasps or murmurs this time, not on day three, but then someone goes and wrecks it because I hear some bastard man say, "Now there goes a horse of a different color," and I know from that one remark that he's missed days one and two and I hate him because I know he feels clever for the remark. But I suppose I'd say it too, since you don't see many or any striped horses out there, and before Harry I never knew such a thing existed, but here he is, and there's no denying that. Not today. Not here.

I hear the whistle and press my calves against him and we're off. Harry shoots forward like a coiled spring, so compressed his haunches feel like they're right under me.

I tighten my fingers, No, no, no Harry, not yet, I'll let you, but not yet, and his ears prick forward, together this time, and he says, All right, and gives me a collected canter that feels like a rocking horse, so high on the up and so low on the down. And we rock around the corner and approach the first jump and he asks me, Now? And I say, No, and he says, Now? And I say No, and then a stride later I can tell he's about to ask again, but before he can I say Yes, and he's off and I don't have to do anything else -- won't have to until we're over and on the other side, and then I'll just have to ask him again, and he'll do it because he loves me and we're one.

There's the flap-flap-flap of leather on leather, the heavy incalzando of hoofbeats, da-da-DA, da-da-DA, da-da-DA, and then a massive push, a hundred thousand compressed pounds exploding forth before --

Silence. As we arc over the fence, the only parts of me in contact with anything are my calves and hands and the balls of my feet although it looks like I'm lying on him, so forward am I and curved around his neck with my face alongside where his mane would be if it weren't braided into a row of nubby topknots. And then bang! We've landed, and as soon as his front hooves make contact with the ground I'm back in the saddle and we're headed toward the brick wall and it's perfect. I can tell we're going to be clear because that's just the way it is.

We're flying now, and it's a wonder to me that we touch the ground at all because clearly we don't need to over one, two, three more fences. I lose remembrance of the order of it but don't need to remember because I feel it ...


Excerpted from Riding Lessons by Gruen, Sara Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Sara Gruen is the author of the New York Times bestseller Water for Elephants and Riding Lessons. She lives with her husband and three children in a conservation community outside Chicago.

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Riding Lessons 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 188 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book. I read it in two days, during and after attending a clients dressage competition. I also called my mother 'Mutti' (I was born and raised in Germany until I was 18 years old). The 'Mutti' in the book is so totally how I remember my 'Mutti' (my Mutti passed away in March of 2007)that it made me want to cry and laugh all at the same time. I have been in the USA for over 40 years and I know how hard this business is, but the rewards of being around these animals. Their unconditional love, their spirit and their ability to let me forget any problem I might have encountered during my work day is soon forgotten when I am on the back of my horse.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting story taking the reader behind the scenes of competitve horseback riding. It focuses on a young woman who trained very hard as a child, and would surely have been an Olymian but for a horrific accident. How she rose from that experience, and began to work with horses again, comprises the theme of this earlier work of this author. I found the characters believeable but not always fully developed. There is a good matrix among the main characters, but I was yearning to know more about the "back stories" of some of them. The main character complains so much and seems trapped in such inertia, it becomes hard to care about her. The plot was mildly entertaining. All in all, I cared more about the horses than the people, in this story. I bought this book becuase of how much I LOVED reading Water for Elephants, by this author. The later is one of the best books I've ever read, but Riding Lessons is not in that category at all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book from the very first chapter. It was a great first book for Sara Gruen and I can't wait for the next. This book really appealed to my love for animals. In addition, I thought she captured the frustrations of raising a teen aged daughter and dealing with a dying parent. Loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book could be a good book however I got tired with the bad choices Annemarie made through out the book, I agree with the person who said the book has too much Annemarie and her involvement in herself. I also agree that it would be fine if Annemarie had any personality or was a sympathetic character! I could not wait to reading the book.
THutchins More than 1 year ago
This is the only book that I've ver closed in utter frustration. Not only did I not care how the story ends, I could care less what happens to the horrible main character - because she's SO unreal. There is no human being with so little foresight, compassion or concern for others as this character. I hated her and wanted nothing good to happen to her. In fact, i stopped reading in the last chapter because I can only hope she was hit by a train after the way she treated her loved ones. If that isn't how it ended, I'm disappointed.
Pammy57 More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately, my first exposure to Sara Gruen was listening to an MP3 rendition of 'Riding Lessons'. This Anne Marie character whinned and carried on so much I could not sympathize with the woman at all! Grow up already! I don't know if it was the narrator's reading of the book or if the book was just that bad. I don't think I would have liked it either way. The story line was just so so and the main character was not likeable at all. The only interesting thing I got from the book was the existance of brindle horses. I did a google search just to look at one, but that's about it.
NKReinert More than 1 year ago
I recently lost two afternoons of potential farm work due to a fabulous gut-wrencher of a horsey novel: Riding Lessons, by Sara Gruen. Sara is much more famous for Water for Elephants, her New York Times bestseller. I never got around to reading it and all six of the local copies were checked out, so I suppose it's still quite popular. But this book - oh, it is unapologetic in its horsiness. She could have dumbed it down and made it a bestseller, perhaps, and I love her so much for keeping it technical. You'll just have to know the difference between French and German dressage, won't you, if you want to understand why the new trainer has such an impact on the main character, and if you can't decipher why she would have preferred the bit wasn't a slow twist, well you'll just have to wonder forever. Or take the effort to google it. Annemarie, the fallen Olympian, the Girl Wonder who took a bad fall right before Rolex, lost her horse, and never went near another one, is a protaganist easy to relate to, for those of us that gave up riding and are slowly rediscovering it. Perhaps we don't all have falls as tragic or as life-changing as hers, but they still remain in your mind, years later, making you a bit windy when you think of getting back on a horse. Or, in Annemarie's case, even going near a horse. But when things fall apart, horses are always there, even when you think you've abandoned them for good. The horse of this book is unexpected, as much for his coloring ("brindled chestnut") as for his breed. I cannot quite figure out why Sara Gruen would make a four-star event horse a Hanoverian instead of a Thoroughbred - especially when Annemarie's original horse would have been competing in the mid-80s, while Thoroughbreds still ruled eventing. I also don't understand why she shattered his pastern (don't worry, it's in the first six pages) during a stadium course.. it would have been much more probable for him to have had a heart attack. Perhaps she was shying away from making it too close to the death of Sailor in "Riders", since there are a few phrases that make me think she's read Jilly Cooper's amazingly trashy and fabulous show-jumping novel. But Sara makes up for these tiny confusions with a completely immersive writing style. Not to say the entire book, but in a few of the riding scenes, like... "I tighten my fingers, No, no, no Harry, not yet, I'll let you, but not yet, and his ears prick forward, together this time, and he says, All right, and gives me a collected canter that feels like a rocking horse, so high on the up and so low on the down." It goes on. Don't you just love it? The cadence of the sentence, the way it pauses slightly for each comma and then just carries on, pause, carry on, pause, carry on - it's a canter stride, and then the next sentence, a breathless rush - that's the fence . There is a simply beautiful paragraph about a horse's death, imagined, that is, that I cannot share out of context, it would just be wrong. But do read it. Plotline, oh yes, there's a plotline, an insurance scheme, a good-looking vet that clearly reads Fugly Horse of the Day first thing every morning, a seductive French dressage trainer, a rebellious teenager, a boring non-horsey husband, autocratic parents in crisis. Everything, in short, that you need. (published at http://unionsquarestables.blogspot.com)
LynnNJ More than 1 year ago
This book was a really good read. I think this author is a terrific writer. Looking forward to the next novel
-Katerina- More than 1 year ago
The only part that confused me a little were the first uses of Oma, Opa, and Mutti - it took a second to realize Oma & Mutti were references to the mom and Opa to the dad. I have never ridden a horse as I have a big fear of falling off a horse reading this showed not only the possible scary side of it but the better side as well. I love animals and the fact that Eva one of the main characters is a teen who helps at a clinic where they rescue horses is one of the reasons I fell in love with this book. I can't wait to read more of Sara Gruen's books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am 50 yrs. old. I love horses and have had horses, moving forced me to sell them. I went to a horse farm of a good friend & begged for a job there. Got into alot of riding there & then showing.I can not get horses off my mind. If you enjoy horses, YOU HAVE TO READ BOTH BOOKS ! Riding Lessons & Flying Changes !! Both Books Are Great! And I never ever had finished a book before that I started reading, until these (2) books. I am waiting for her to write another, following, Flying Changes. THANKS SARA !
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading Riding Lessons from the beginning. I am a dressage rider and also a writer myself. (Lethal Policy, 2002) I found the book to be engaging and found it hard to put it down once I started it. There are too few books on the market about horses, especially dressage and H/J or eventing. My only complaints about the book are minor. I feel that the cover should have a more 'Hanovarian' type of horse on the cover, since that was what Hurrah was. This horse almost looks like a Standardbred. Also, I felt that sometimes the character was a little snobby at times. Other than that, I found the book to be highly accurate, which can be unusual in some equestrian books. I've got a few pages still to go, and greatly look forward to finishing it tonight. Great job! Jennifer Hays Lethal Policy Author and dressage rider
Guest More than 1 year ago
There are not many novels I read that engaged me all the way, but Riding Lessons is an exception. The first person used gives that intimacy that is so captivating in wanting to read from the first page to the last in one go. The transition from one scene to another is seamless. From the feel of it, I have no doubt it is written by someone who knows and loves horses. I had read The Horse Whisperer too, but it was never as engaging as Riding Lessons. Great job! But `Great¿ is still an understatement to describe the novel and I can see that it will overtake Nicholas Evans¿ book one day. One thing, it has great themes, a theme of relationship between a horse and human among others. Although I¿m not a horsy person I do have a positive disposition of this wonderful animal. I only wish that it has been published in hard cover, then I can be more sure that my copy can last my natural life that a mass market paperback may not, feeling its ink may fade off over time, or its spine may not hold for long. I¿m impressed, to be honest. I look forward to her next novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I consider myself a fairly discerning reader, and a book must engage me on the first page or else I'll set it aside. Sara Gruen's RIDING LESSONS is so explosive that not only was I hooked immediately, I lost a night's sleep to finish it. I became so immersed in Annemarie's life that I was saddened when I reached the end of her story. Gruen writes with astonishing grace about several difficult issues. Her depiction of the power struggle between Annemarie and her daughter is rendered with empathy, and thankfully avoids relying on melodrama or syrupy platitudes. Annemarie's parents are vital, vibrant characters, so alive and skillfully realized you feel like you're eavesdropping on private, painful conversations. Gruen also exhibits a biting sense of humor, imbuing Annemarie with a sharp wit and fragile bravado that leads her into several comical situations. And the sequences about riding can only be described as breathtaking. RIDING LESSONS is so exquisitely written I often found myself stopping to reread sentences, just to enjoy their structure and cadence. I urge anyone who's tired of the same old stale, formulaic women's fiction to read RIDING LESSONS; I promise it'll restore your faith in the genre. I eagerly await Gruen's next effort.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The write up on this book led me to believe there would be more depth than there was. The book has too much Annemarie and her involvement in herself(which would be fine if she had any personality or was a sympathetic character!) The other characters alluded to in the synoposis on the back were written about almost like a second thought. I never had any feelings about anyone else because the characters weren't 'developed'! I kept hoping that I was going to find out more about Dan and other important people in the story,but didn't happen. This was a book that I skipped through many pages and missed nothing! Since this was a first novel, hopefully this author will improve with her next book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Eighteen year old Olympic hopeful, Annemarie Zimmer and her beloved steed Highland Harry run the equestrian course so effortlessly they seem more like a centaur. As they finish the last jump Annemarie senses something is wrong. Three weeks later, a physically broken Annemarie learns that a bone in Harry¿s hoof shattered leading to Harry humanely shot dead right there. Annemarie recovers from a broken neck and other major injuries with only the drugs keeping her out of depression.................................... Twenty years later, Annemarie has lived in Minnesota so she will not be pushed to ride for Harry was her ¿significant other¿. She loses her job documenting software, her spouse Roger leaves her, and she learns that her father is dying from Lou Gehrig¿s disease. Though returning to the family¿s New Hampshire Maple Brook Riding Academy means reliving her nightmare Annemarie knows she must as she was her dad¿s greatest hope and his greatest disappointment. Accompanied by her obdurate know it all teenage daughter she needs to see her dad before he dies. However, the shocker at home is the striped horse that looks like the reincarnation of Harry...................................... RIDING LESSONS is an exciting character study that uses the equestrian world as a backdrop to a family drama. The vivid story line focuses on the trials and tribulations of Annemarie, a world caliber athlete in hiding from life, her family, and her sport until three strikes make her return to the fold. The secondary cast including her recalcitrant daughter, other family members, the vet she loved as a teen, an attractive trainer, and of course the striped horse provide insight into the heroine who remains the center of a powerful tale of redemption........................... Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I kept waiting for an explanation of her relationship with her parents. I could not leave things with my father unresolved. It did remind me of The Horse Whisperer. Not exactly what i expected from Sara Gruen.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very real like with all the different types of people.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the story and the setting and the horsemanship. I struggled with the selfish self centered main character. Bad things happen to people and you can live with it, get over it, or get stuck in self pity. It was easy to relate to the struggles with her teen age daughter but very difficult to understand some of the crazy illogical impulses of this middle age woman. Would give it a 3 1/2 if it was an option but didn't like it will enough to give a 4
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was difficult for me to get through book as Annemarie got in my way.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an avid equestrian I could relate to this story. A great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago