Finding Peace in the Saddle on 9/11

Today, we are remembering those we lost.

 

 

Beauty Boy print BW

 

From RIDING BARRANCA by Laura Chester

Round Pond

Perhaps because of the solemnity of the day, September eleventh, the air seems particularly still, as blue and clear as it was nine years ago when the world was left in shock by the attacks on the World Trade Center.

I saddle up Barranca and decide to take him out alone, heading along the top of the ridge, planning to take a new path down toward Round Pond. Riding through the sarsaparillas, a tunnel of grey opens to a chartreuse splash at the end. Soon, the new path disappears into unmarked woodland, but we continue bushwhacking along. No one has been down here in a long time, and there are lots of branches to break.

We reach a treacherous slide of rocks, but with a little urging, Barranca makes it over. I keep expecting to spot a glimpse of the pond, but all I see is palomino-colored bracken, the magnificent forest dressed up in green and gold. Finally, I spot a bit of blue through the leaves and know we are almost there. I feel a definite thrill, riding this new trail for the first time. I’m inside the moment, and Barranca is all fired up. When we hit the dirt road at water level, we canter to the end of the lake where there is a manmade dam. Standing there, looking out over the pond, I hear someone shooting a gun, target practice, getting ready for hunting season, no doubt, and it is disturbing. Guns, ammunition, explosions, crashes, towers collapsing—why is there so much destruction when peace can surround us?

By the time I get home, Barranca is covered with pine needles. As my feet hit the solid earth, I feel grounded, as if I have somehow absorbed my horse’s sure-footedness and a powerful surge of energy moves through me, passing into my core.

 

 

 

To read more from RIDING BARRANCA by Laura Chester, CLICK HERE.

Two New Reviews Tell Us Why This Horse Book Is a Great Gift for the Readers on Your List

On the Loose

Gorgeous photographs by international fashion photographer Donna DeMari “add another level of richness” to RIDING BARRANCA by Laura Chester.

 

“Laura Chester’s honesty shines through RIDING BARRANCA, and in the end we admire her courage and are grateful for her sharing her emotional journeys with her family and her beloved horses. This is a book to savor, one to stay on the shelf for years….If it has a flaw, it is that there is so much in it to think about, so much experience to absorb. The only remedy, then, is to turn back to page one, and begin all over again! Highly recommended for readers young adult and older.” –Patagonia Regional Times

 

“Horse people are aware of the healing aspect of spending time with a beloved horse. It therefore comes as no surprise to many of us equestrian readers that Laura Chester’s trail rides became a form of therapy by helping her reconcile the difficult relationship she shared with her mother. I felt for her and applauded her brave decision to include the memories that cropped up alongside her journal entries…the sweet and sour work to create a relateable story that leaves the reader rooting for the author while reflecting on his/her own life.” –Equestrian Culture Magazine

 

Check out the Holiday Issue of the fabulous Equestrian Culture Magazine! You can order your digital or print subscription by CLICKING HERE.

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RIDING BARRANCA by Laura Chester is available from the TSB online bookstore, where holiday shipping in the US is FREE through Tuesday, December 17, 2013. Plus, check out our other bestselling books and DVDs and our money-saving sets!

 

CLICK HERE TO SHOP NOW

RB christmas

Top Trainers, Clinicians, and Horse Experts Share Their Thanks: Hurray for Supportive Parents, Guardian Angels, and the Animals in Our Lives

THANK YOU

 

Each year around this time, we ask some of our authors to share what they are thankful for, and it is always a fine reminder to open our hearts and minds to all that surrounds us, and greet each day—and the people and animals in it—with a smile.

 

“What I love about horses is understanding their minds, and through their minds, learning to understand how they move. The mind and the feet have always been connected. And when you are in tune with these you find yourself becoming one with the horse, with your mental and physical energies coming together. This is when you truly feel ‘freedom,’ and it is something I am very thankful for.” Marry Morrow, Horse Trainer and Co-Author of KNOW YOU, KNOW YOUR HORSE

 

“I have so much to be thankful for it is hard to narrow it down, especially in the wake of the tornadoes that recently ripped through my home state. The town just 12 miles south had major damage and many homes are just gone—I am thankful that my family is okay and that in all the nearby devastation, not one life was lost.

“On a more basic level, I am thankful for my family, friends, health, and of course my animals, and the freedom to worship in the church of my choice without persecution. For a beautiful spring morning with birds singing, bright sunshine and green grass and a wonderful horse to ride through it all. My blessings are truly too numerous to list.”  Eunice Rush, Co-Author of KNOW YOU, KNOW YOUR HORSE

 

“I am thankful for the 16 years I got to spend with my incredible dogs, Max and Luna. I lost them both within a few weeks of each other this past month. It broke my heart to lose them, but I am so grateful and honored that they shared their lives with me. The joy they brought is beyond measure. Thank you Max and Luna ~ you are forever in my heart!” Cindy Meehl, Director of BUCK the Documentary and 7 CLINICS WITH BUCK BRANNAMAN

 

“I am eternally grateful to Caroline Robbins and Martha Cook from Trafalgar Square Books for 20 years of creating my books to share with horse and companion animal lovers. And for the gift of having TSB senior editor, Rebecca Didier, as my co-author on my 20th and one of my most prized books yet, DRESSAGE WITH MIND, BODY & SOUL. My thanks to Trafalgar for all the years of support and encouragement of my work.

“And I am thankful for my husband, Roland Kleger, and my family and friends, and all the people and their horses and dogs that I have had the good fortune to meet and share Tellington TTouch with this year—in trainings, on FaceBook, on YouTube, and on my blog. May the support from your Guardian Angels continue to bless your lives.”  Linda Tellington-Jones, Creator of the Tellington Method and Author of DRESSAGE WITH MIND, BODY & SOUL and THE ULTIMATE HORSE BEHAVIOR AND TRAINING BOOK

 

We are thankful to live and work in a beautiful place--- Trafalgar Square Farm.

We are thankful to live and work in a beautiful place— Trafalgar Square Farm.

 

“I am thankful first for my good health. Being healthy is something no one should take for granted. I am also thankful for my wonderful supportive husband, who always has a good sense of humor about my horsie adventures!”  Janet Foy, FEI/USEF Dressage Judge and Author of DRESSAGE FOR THE NOT-SO-PERFECT HORSE

 

“I am thankful that my recent major surgery was successful and is behind me. I look forward to hitting the trails soon.” Linda Snow McLoon, Author of CROWN PRINCE and CROWN PRINCE CHALLENGED

 

“I have a lot in my life to be thankful for. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the love and support of my parents. They instilled in me the work ethic and determination that have made it possible to live my dream. I’m thankful for my loyal and talented team that allows me to share my horse training method with the world and for all the horse lovers out there who are committed to becoming better horsemen.” Clinton Anderson, Trainer, Clinician, and Author of PHILOSOPHY, LESSONS WELL LEARNED, and DOWNUNDER HORSEMANSHIP

 

“I am very thankful for the small things life has to offer and thankful for any opportunity to be a positive influence for others. If you’ve made someone smile, or laugh, or feel good about themselves, then you’ve had a successful day.” Kerry Thomas, Pioneering Researcher and Co-Author of HORSE PROFILING

 

“I’m thankful that my family, students, and publisher encourage me to believe in myself and write my new book PRESSURE PROOF YOUR RIDING.”  Daniel Stewart, Coach, Sport Psychologist, and Author of PRESSURE PROOF YOUR RIDING

 

And finally, a Thanksgiving poem from writer Laura Chester, author of RIDING BARRANCA:

I’m thankful for my health

despite unhealthy ways.

I’m thankful for my horses

who are thankful for their hay.

Thankful for my new book

“May it be read by all,” she prays.

I’m thankful for my children,

who still light up my days.

Grateful for this life we share

in tranquility and blaze.

 

We wish all safe travel and a very happy Thanksgiving.

—The TSB Staff

Enjoy 15% off and free shipping on all these titles and more at the TSB online bookstore! CLICK HERE

Thoughts on Horses, Riding, and Life from Supermodel Arizona Muse

Arizona Muse in a 2013 Estee Lauder Holiday Ad.

Arizona Muse in a 2013 Estee Lauder Holiday Ad.

 

The holiday season brings “beauty” in many different forms to the fore as companies jockey for the public’s cherished dollars. A striking figure, enigmatic eyes, a splash of color on a dramatic background—these are only a few of the ways our imagination will be wooed and our desires inspired in the days and weeks ahead.

We forget in the onslaught of glitter and loveliness that the face in the ad, the voiceover on the commercial…these belong to (believe it or not) regular human beings, maybe even not so different from each one of us. The models and the celebrities, the actors and actresses, are perhaps pondering the same moments in time we are, enjoying the same means of escape, and seeking the same forms of solace and comfort of company upon which all of us depend.

 

A moment from the short film "Modern Muse" by Steven Sebring.

A moment from the short film “Modern Muse” by Steven Sebring.

 

“Being in motion is one of the keys to being happy,” says supermodel Arizona Muse.

It is exactly this that Laura Chester shares and explores in RIDING BARRANCA, the prolific writer’s latest book. As she and her horses wander in what seems like almost perpetual motion, up mountainsides, down creek beds, along narrow trails—sometimes alone but often in the company of others, including Arizona—Laura wrestles with her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s disease and tries to come to terms with their troubled relationship. The horse and his movement, as is often the case, is the key to Laura finding a way to release the past in order to take firm hold of the present…while opening her heart to the future.

“The horse, my favorite animal—sensitive intelligence inside a powerful and strong physical body,” says Arizona. “Laura and I share a very special connection with these beauties. I’ve been blessed to ride with her!”

 

Arizona Muse is one of the riding companions author Laura Chester shares time and space with in RIDING BARRANCA.

Arizona Muse is one of the riding companions author Laura Chester shares time and space with in RIDING BARRANCA.

 

Laura writes in RIDING BARRANCA:

Now we ride quietly and just take all of this in. So often, it is better not to talk on horseback but to try and remain in touch with what is happening with your horse, how the bit feels in his mouth, how he is walking on the path—giving leg signals and making subtle moves…Arizona and I both appreciate the great silence that surrounds us…neither of us wears a watch, for we are in a timeless zone of pure pleasure.

Take a moment to discover some of the other places Arizona Muse finds quiet, joy, and companionship in this short film by Steven Sebring:

 

RIDING BARRANCA is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE!

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

Click image to order.

Click image to order.

Great Photos of Horses and TSB Authors–Happy Friday!

The Trafalgar Square Farm horses, enjoying the fields this past summer--we already miss those long days of sunshine and late evening rides!

The Trafalgar Square Farm horses, enjoying the fields this past summer–we already miss those long days of sunshine and late evening rides!

 

Sometimes, it feels good to just remember why we love horses. On this Friday, enjoy a few photos that capture why we all work so hard to have horses in our life and do right by them.

 

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–The TSB Staff

www.horseandriderbooks.com

“A Superb Adult Coming-of-Age Story” and Other Reader Reviews of RIDING BARRANCA

 

Did you read a great book this summer that featured horses? Did you find one that struck a chord deep within…one that moved you? These readers all found a reason to pick up RIDING BARRANCA by Laura Chester, and here’s what they’ve chosen to say about it:

 

Riding Barranca is tender, beautiful, complicated, simple, wondrous, and mystical—much like the endeavor of riding a horse. Laura Chester masterfully orchestrates two parallel narratives: her complex family upbringing amidst her mother’s slow descent into Alzheimer’s, and Laura’s soul-infused love of her horses and her life with them.”

–Carew Papritz, Author of The Legacy Letters

“Laura Chester takes us on her ride between the worlds – through landscapes of chaos, fear, and pain, as well as grace, inspiration, and transcendence. Always an adventure, and never without danger, we experience the rhythms of her life, her growth and healing, through difficult passages of loss and liberation, as she enters the ultimate solo chapter of living on beyond her parents. Of letting go, and letting healing begin.”

–Bicoastal (on Amazon.com)

“Chester celebrates the vast beauty all around her, as well as the darker regions of her childhood. The counterpoint of Chester’s explorations into the emotional turmoil of her upbringing set against the joy found on the back of her equine soulmate, Barranca, make this a compelling read, hard to put down.”

–Elizabeth Ervin, Author of Heart’s Blood

“I have not lived my life with horses, and reading Chester’s account, I ached for something comparable. In addition to companionship, horses have provided her with a detour from the cares of daily life, a vehicle into the natural world, a bridge to a different kind of love, and intimate communing with another animal. Beautifully interwoven with the rich and vivid log of rides around the world is her emotional and sometimes painful personal journey. The riding doubles for the bumpy terrain of her own life trail.”

–Summer Brenner (on Amazon.com)

“A mini retreat from life. If you have horses, you’ll appreciate the insights into the horses on the page. If you don’t, you’ll gain insight to the fascinating creatures that captivate little girls, and adults, the world over.”

–Jan Hoadley (on Amazon.com)

“Partly autobiography, partly travel writing, this is a horsewoman’s tale. Laura Chester had a fraught relationship with her mother and riding was a way to escape from tension and just be herself…This book is especially good for horsey readers but the honesty of speech about family and appreciation of nature’s beauty have a message for us all.”

–Clare O’Beara, Author of Master at Arms

“This is a beautifully written, heart-felt memoir. When I was reading, Chester’s descriptions were so vivid I could see, smell and feel the settings. Her bond with her horse(s) is so strong, I envy her that ability to relate. What I did not envy was her family dynamic. Her complicated childhood, family life and relationship with her mother were at times, almost too much to comprehend. That she is able to write bout her past with such clarity and compassion is a gift.”

–Janet (on Amazon.com)

 

Riding-Barranca-final-300RIDING BARRANCA is available now from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A FREE EXCERPT AND TO ORDER

Best Summer Read for Horse Lovers: Review Calls RIDING BARRANCA “A Beautiful, Special Book. It Will Touch Everyone Who Reads It.”

Poet and author Lyn Lifshin calls RIDING BARRANCA "A beautiful, special book."

Poet and author Lyn Lifshin calls RIDING BARRANCA “A beautiful, special book.”

The following review of Laura Chester’s new book RIDING BARRANCA is by acclaimed poet and author Lyn Lifshin. Her many books include several about racehorses, including The Licorice Daughter: My Year with Ruffian; Barbaro:Beyond Brokenness; and coming in 2014, Secretariat: The Red Freak, the Miracle, all from Texas Review Press. Also forthcoming is a chapbook, Lost in the Fog from Finishing Line Press.

Choosing to Ride Out: A Review of Laura Chester’s RIDING BARRANCA by Lyn Lifshin

As soon as I saw the stunning, breathtaking cover of Laura Chester’s Riding Barranca, a startlingly beautiful image of horse and woman moving through rippling water, moving as one, mirroring the magical ride that’s about to unfold, I felt I was in for an amazing journey.

In Riding Barranca Chester lets us inside her world where the beauty and silence of nature tangle with complicated, often searing family relationships. These passages, italicized in the book, memories of being knifed with verbal assaults from a mother who demands—“Whose genes are in you,” are a counterpoint to the soothing sound of “the horse’s hooves on the hard packed road.”

In another section she writes, “When my parents were passing through New York and I wanted to have a meal with them—my mother’s response was, ‘This is our time to be alone together, Laura. We’re only seeing the people we really want to see.’ ” When she asks to stay in the pink room, her mother responds, “But that ‘s a nice room…” Like a Greek chorus, her words move the reader though years of intense landscapes, both inner and outer, sometimes to familiar and almost forbidden places, scary vistas she can’t help but come back from changed. The calmer landscapes with “the scent of juniper and sweet fern that smells mildly like peppermint when crushed by the horses’ hooves,” and the still painful memories move like dancers on a dance floor—first one leads, then the other.

I didn’t want this book to end which is always a good sign that I am in the presence of intensely beautiful writing and magic. A cremation on the banks of the Ganges takes her back to the cremation of her mother in Wisconsin. A risky horse ride in India reminds her of a time when her father rode into a bull pasture with a bull whip in hand while she was on a pony, a trigger for anxiety. On Barranca, with the calmness and ease of a good horse, she sees things she hasn’t before. She has also learned to say, “No, I do not want to do this.” Through landscapes, often silent and refreshing, sacred as a church, family history reshapes itself like pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope, always there but seen at a different angle.

I can’t imagine anyone not fascinated by the connection between humans and animals that Chester explores. Dogs and cats, not just horses, can soothe, console and connect. Anyone close to an animal knows these creatures merge with the history of one’s life and bring emotions that are rare and powerful.

The mother and daughter relationship, central to Chester’s year of watching her mother go through the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease, is revealed in some of the most moving passages—extremely intense, often painful, heartbreaking and raw, yet singing as they must have years before. Having edited Tangled Vines, a collection of mother and daughter poems, I was not surprised how powerful Chester’s writing is about this relationship: intense, ambivalent, passionate, difficult, fierce, never easy or simple, a relationship that never ends, not even with death.

At the heart of the best connection, there is always some darkness, envy, ambivalence, combined with a longing attempt to win the mother’s love, approval. Riding her beautiful, beloved Missouri Foxtrotter, Barranca, Chester takes us deep into the forest of many family relationships with their estrangements, reconciliations that no family is without—betrayals, rage, sickness and death, as well as support and comfort.

Like the dappled light Chester and her horse move under, the book goes from joyous moments laughing with girlfriends under the stars, to hurtful, terrible darkness that could trap a less strong, stubbornly determined woman, one who has survived literal and emotional falls. Riding lifts us into another realm, “purging the daily grumble and allowing our spirits to soar.”

So many examples of beauty and strength and sensuousness: “The woodland trail is surrounded by thin, dark-skinned birch-like trees, and if you break off a twig and give it a chew, it tastes vaguely like root beer.” Later, “There is the faint smell of grape on the road home, followed by fresh tar and then mown fields. It is so mild and blissful that I feel I could almost fall asleep in the saddle.” So many beautiful passages about Indian summer—“watching the dark wet shine of Barranca’s skin as it dries in the afternoon sun.” Scenes from India—“a woman in a bright red sari carries a huge bundle of sticks on her head.” I can see the dark wood paneling, glass cabinets and jewelry at the Gem Palace, as well as the blue moon rising over the Huachucas—-“Suddenly the moon is there is full form, balanced on the mountain line and rising surely. Revealing its golden appearance…”

It is quite a ride with Laura Chester and Barranca. “While riding, memories so often surface and percolate. I wonder where these odd thoughts come from, similar to the musings of a twilight reverie arriving like unexpected houseguests. Images arise…family members appear as if to remind us they will inhabit us forever.”

Riding-Barranca-final-300One of the most beautiful passages of the book is toward the end when she thanks her mother for the good things. It is too long to quote all of it, but I can’t end without adding a little: “Thank you for being honestly passionate, for remaining steadfast, marrying this man, leaping into an unknown world—the cold, often hostile, uninviting North…thank you for the magical Christmases, the stockings and gifts beneath our tinsel laden tree.…Thank you for our wonderful homes, raising us in places of order and beauty…thank you for showing us emotion—letting us know that love is not easy, but it is always worth it.”

She leaves us with what she’s learned: “Riding Barranca puts me in the moment, which is where I want to live.” This is a beautiful, special book. It will touch everyone who reads it. I couldn’t recommend it more.

RIDING BARRANCA is available from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER NOW

International Fashion Photographer Donna DeMari Brings Visual Allure to the Pages of RIDING BARRANCA, the New Book by Laura Chester

Fashion photographer Donna DeMari on her Dutch Warmblood Zwen.

Fashion photographer Donna DeMari on her Dutch Warmblood Zwen.

Donna DeMari is an American-born, self-taught fashion photographer who began her career in Milan, Italy, and whose innate feel for natural light and shape steadily amassed an astounding list of top clients, including Anthropologie, Australian Vogue, British Elle, British Vogue, British Brides, French Cosmopolitan, French Marie Claire, Grazia, Italian Vogue, Italian Glamour, Italian Marie Claire, Laura Ashley London, L’Officiel, Macy’s, Margaret Howell, Natori, Neiman Marcus, The New York Times, O’Halloran, Pepe Jeans, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, Sky Magazine, Spanish Elle, Spiegal, The Observer, Target, Ralph Lauren, WWD, and many more.

In 1995 and 1996, Donna became the first woman to shoot the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and was featured in the ABC television special “The Making of the Swimsuit Edition,” as well as in a special segment on VH1 Fashion Television, which explored her views as a female fashion photographer. She has traveled the globe while photographing top models such as Kate Moss, Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Helena Christenson.

In addition to fashion, Donna has been photographing horses for more than two decades, the result of a love affair with horses that began at the age of four. Her horse photographs were recently discovered by Ralph Lauren and are currently being displayed in RL stores around the world. Donna has also shown her work in numerous exhibitions and has had her photos published in five books, including the newest book by her close friend and (sometimes) riding partner Laura Chester: RIDING BARRANCA (CLICK HERE to download a free excerpt).

We recently had a chance to talk to Donna about her career, her love of horses, and her work with Laura Chester over the years.

TSB: Although you have spent much of your life as a fashion photographer, you have also been photographing horses for more than two decades. Are there similarities and differences in photographing human and equine subjects? Can you tell us a little about how you approach a model in couture, versus a horse at liberty in a field (for example)? What are you trying to capture in both?

Donna: I once wrote an artist statement that best answers this exact question. I wrote the following: It is a fleeting instant where reality fades and the abstract dream intercedes. A split second, which for me exposes any separation between subject and photographer. I am no longer aware of anything but the power and presence before me, losing myself in an intimate dance of passion and discovery, where the essence of the soul be it woman or horse, is momentarily released to my watching eye.

It is a dance that often begins slowly with hesitation and longing, a hunger to expose the beautiful and mystical through quiet observation and gentle encouraging. Unsure of each other, I move slowly, circling, watching, photographing. A presence that is physically non-intrusive but emotionally connected in an effort to expose the most private of moments or movements. What results can be both explosive and subtle, a photograph which, I hope, takes a step from this world into another, like a touch of magic.

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TSB: You have had a number of books published featuring your photographs. How does RIDING BARRANCA, the newest work by your friend Laura Chester, set itself apart from the other books in which you have been involved? Can you share with us a little of how you came to be part of this project?

Donna: Laura is one of my most dearest friends and we also share a very similar aesthetic. Working together in the past has always been a joyful process and a collaborative effort. Laura sought me out for our fIrst book together Holy Personal not long after we fIrst met. Sparks followed next, which combined a collection of Laura’s edgy and engaging short stories with a variety of photos I had taken while living in Europe. Amongst those were many of my horse photos never before seen.

Being best friends and working so well together, it was a natural progression as two horsewomen to collaborate together on books that celebrated our great love of horses. Thus came Eros & Equus and Heartbeat for Horses, which were both a labor of love. Laura’s editing choices and my photos were a perfect fit, and it seemed unlikely that we could top those. Then came RIDING BARRANCA, which initially was meant to be all prose and a very personal and unique interweaving of both Laura’s amazing adventures on horseback with the powerful honesty of her personal family relationships and the parallels between them. Laura’s husband Mason, a very talented photographer himself, began documenting Laura’s rides in Arizona, as well as on her many trips, with beautiful images that perfectly complemented the prose. Mason generously let me share the spotlight and I filled in with the images taken in Massachusetts and India—as well as the cover image, my most favorite photo of Laura ever!

TSB: “Place” and setting play an important part in RIDING BARRANCA. Your work in the fashion world has led you on fashion shoots all over the globe, including locations such as Thailand, Japan, Australia, Bali, and Hong Kong. What is it about the air, the energy, the light of a different “place” that you try to capture in photographs, and which Laura captures in words? What can be found when we travel to places unknown? What can be lost?

Donna: It can be summed up easily with one word—adventure. Traveling for me has always been one of my heart’s greatest pleasures and thus an easy fit. Laura and I have both been working at our crafts for decades, and yet we never have lost passion for the art we create. This passion becomes much more heightened when combined with the adrenalin rush of new and exciting visuals in far corners of the world. Especially India, which is extraordinary and overwhelming in it’s uniqueness.

TSB: You found that as you traveled and pursued your career in your early twenties that you had to, in some way, give up having horses in your life. What was it about the horse that drove you to integrate them into your existence in some little way (roaming the stables outside of Paris, for example)? What is it about the horse that draws you to him still now?

Donna on Zwen.

Donna on Zwen.

Donna: I have loved horses since the tender age of four when my Dad first took me for a pony ride.Very simply, I think when you have the horse bug, you have it for life. It took me forty years to finally have my own horse. Before that I rode when and if I could. And I spent wonderful days with my camera soaking up the smell of hay in stables in France and capturing images that are probably still my best.

But no moment in my life will ever compare to the first day I met my Zwen, and he became the realization of a dream I never thought to live. Zwen was 11 years old when I bought him, a magnificent Dutch Warmblood, 16.3 hands high and more horse than I had ever encountered in my life. But we were truly meant to be together, and he is all the horse I longed to have. I am blessed to have him still at age 30, although he has been retired for the last five years. He taught me everything there is to know and love about horses and riding. I love him dearly.

TSB: You have worked with Laura Chester on a number of book projects. What is it about her writing that you feel parallels the images you capture with your camera? What is it about the work you have done together that you think affects people most?

Donna: I would choose to answer this question with just a few of the many adjectives that describe Laura’s remarkable writing. She is inspired, committed, honest, passionate, modern, detailed, intelligent, funny, highly creative, a painter with words, emotional, dark and bright at the same time, curious, intimate and personal. A woman with a style all her own. One of a kind. Extraordinary. In short, an amazing storyteller. Hard not to be drawn into her work and harder still not to turn the next page.

TSB: Do you have any memories of a particular image of a horse, a drawing, painting, or photograph, that isn’t your own and that you feel captured the essence of the horse in a still frame?

Donna: I have many postcards of horses that I bought when I lived in Paris. All fabulous photographs that I collected at a time I never thought to one day have a horse of my own.

TSB: You are a dog person as well as a horse person, and recently were involved in an online project for Anthropologie, which featured your Labradors. Can you tell us a little about your dogs and why you enjoyed having them in your life? Did they make good photography subjects?

Donna: They were brothers, one black, one chocolate, and they were the loves of my life. I photographed their entire lives and wrote furiously about our life together and all the particulars of their unique and gorgeous personalities so as not to forget any detail of the love we shared after their passing—my grief all encompassing.

It was my dream to honor them in a book, and I have. It is titled Luke and Forrest: My saviors, My Salvation, just published in November by Willowcreek Press. It is my greatest accomplishment, and yes, they were beautiful…all the answers to your questions are in the pages of my book. They were everything to me. They were pure love.

TSB: If you could choose one photograph you’ve taken over the years to catch a glimpse of, or take a prolonged look at, every day, which photo would it be? Can you describe an image you might think of as a “favorite,” regardless of the subject?

Donna: I have three. One is of Luke and Forrest, a black and white image I took of them, head to head, that appears on the hardcover edition of their book. The second is a photograph a friend took of me riding my Zwen in a flowing dress, similar to the image used on the cover of Eros & Equus. The third and most dear is a photo of my mom and me at the beach many years ago.

To learn more about Donna and her work, check out this interview for Equestrian Life’s program “For the Love of Horse,” which aired on HRTV:

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CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

RIDING BARRANCA, the new book by Laura Chester featuring photos by Donna DeMari and Mason Rose, is available now from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER NOW

“The counterpoint of horses and family makes Riding Barranca unusually satisfying. This intrigue, the unanswered questions, the mysterious juxtapositions, are what makes this book, to me, a work of art.” –Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul; Soul Mates; and A Religion of One’s Own

Finding Strength, the Ability to Forgive and Be Forgiven, and Liberation–It All Comes on the Back of a Horse, Out on the Trail

RB Here

It has been professed by others before that human beings find soul on the back of a horse and solace in wide open spaces. Riding out, out into the plains, the desert, the mountains, the woodlands, allows one to get lost…and then find oneself. And the very rhythms of riding—the thud of the horse’s hooves, his breathing, the swish of his tail, the squeak of the tack—form an integral interface between human and earth.

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, currently in Arizona, 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:  You have had many books published, fiction and nonfiction. How is RIDING BARRANCA, your newest work, different from your previous titles?

LCC:  I began writing and publishing as a poet when I was a teenager, but I’ve had various books of fiction and non-fiction. I find that the different forms are like walk, trot and canter—why not try them all? My first non-fiction book was Primagravida, an account of my first pregnancy and birth. One of my favorites is Lupus Novice, which describes my encounter with the auto-immune disease of the same name. When I have an idea for a non-fiction book, like Holy Personal, the trick is to just begin, not knowing where the story will go. When I began RIDING BARRANCA, I didn’t anticipate that it would include personal family dynamics, but life itself leads the writing.

TSB: “Place” and setting play an important part in RIDING BARRANCA. Can you share a little about your home in the Berkshires and your home in Arizona, and how the two parts of the country with their very different atmospheres invite self-exploration?

LCC: You couldn’t ask for two more different environments than the Berkshires of Massachusetts and the desert of southern Arizona, but both of our homes are rather remote, set in tranquil locations. Arizona is very expansive, and tends to allow the mind to soar and empty out, while the close comforts of the East, make one go more inward—this book has elements of both—memory and release.

TSB author Laura Chester and her horse Barranca.

TSB author Laura Chester and her horse Barranca.

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 difficultbut 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.

TSB: You grew up loving and riding horses, as well as writing from an early age. What was your favorite horse book as a little girl?

LCC: I was not much of a reader as a child—I liked it best when my grandmother read out loud to me, and I could get all cozy and comfortable. I remember my grandmother reading me Black Beauty and how she was so upset over the mistreatment of this poor creature that she stopped mid-sentence and could not go on for a while. I think I realized the power of the written word through her reaction. I not only sympathized with the beaten horse, but felt for my grandmother as well.

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.

LCC: My very first memory was of the shadow of my rocking horse against the bedroom wall while I was lying in my crib. As I grew a bit older, I madly rode this red wooden rocking horse that propelled me back and forth on its four springs. As for “real” horses—I don’t know if I truly remember being strapped into the saddle as a two-year-old, or if I just remember the photograph. In any case, I was introduced to ponies at a very early age. Our Shetland pony, Texas, was brown and white, and I remember that he had the markings of the Lone Star State on his side. He was so small I had no fear of falling.

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.

LCC: I was told repeatedly that I could not consider myself “a real rider” until I’d fallen off three times. I achieved this status early on. We were also supposed to“get back on your horse”after a fall, and I think I always did, because who would want to walk back to the barn? My favorite pony, Bunko, (shared with numerous cousins), was very naughty, and he would often canter along, and stop abruptly, putting his head down, and I would catapult over his head, but I never hurt myself falling, until I was an adult, and tried to jump my Swedish Warmblood over a stack of hay bales at dusk on a slanted hillside. He stopped and did a leap-frog jump veering off to the right and I fell and broke my arm. Arnica does help.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

LCC: I think I like the freedom of intimacy with a friend, knowing that I can say almost anything and my confidence will be held.  Sharing humor is also a quality I enjoy, for I love to laugh and am very lucky to have wonderful women friends. What would life be without them?

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

LCC: I like the feeling of silent communion and trust. Any horse can do the unexpected, but having that basic trusting understanding with a horse, (who is also affectionate and reasonable as well as athletic and willing), is important to me.

Laura rides whenever and wherever she can!

Laura rides whenever and wherever she can!

TSB: If you could ride one place on horseback that you haven’t yet, where would it be?

LCC: Maybe on the beaches of Bali? Is that possible? I hope someday to meet up with my sons and grandsons in Bali, and ride with them there. I would also love to ride in South America—I’ve never been there, but I have to improve my Spanish first! HOLA Pinacates.

TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?

LCC: Mario Batali once cooked a birthday dinner for my writer friend, Jim Harrison, and it was as close to a perfect meal as I can imagine. In the company of several friends, we ate one splendid course after another, and drank great wine for hours. The pasta dish in particular, with a generous portion of shaved white truffles, was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.

TSB: What is your idea of the perfect vacation?

LCC: I especially enjoy family vacations, when my son Clovis brings my grandsons from Australia and we meet up in some exotic place. A year ago, we rented a house for a week in Maui, and it was splendid. My niece, Daphne, joined us from Hong Kong, and we also had other family members living on the island, so we had that additional personal connection. No vacation is truly perfect without a ride or two, and I was able to join my sister-in-law on her horses, riding on cliffs above the ocean, and later, Daphne and I rode on some of the most gorgeous ranch terrain—it was blissful, though our guide didn’t want us to canter—thus, returning home to one’s own good horses can be almost as sweet as escaping daily chores.

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

LCC: I think I would like to have a chat, and some tea, perhaps, with Virginia Woolf.  I admire her writing tremendously, and I can imagine sitting in her cozy English cottage and being inspired by her mere presence, not to mention her words.

Riding Barranca Final Cover webTSB: What are you working on now? Is there a new book in the works to follow RIDING BARRANCA?

LCC: It’s a little soon to begin a new book. My first copy of RIDING BARRANCA just arrived yesterday—I’m thrilled with it, but now it is time to try and do what I can to get it out into the world. I believe in allowing for some fallow time, and will not rush myself into a new project, but I do have one idea percolating—”Becoming Emily Rose”—(I often begin with a title). In this case it came from my mother-in-law, who passed away at 102. She was a great inspiration to me. My sons encouraged me to buy her house next-door to ours on Rose Hill and keep it in the family. It is a charming rabbit-warren of a place, with fabulous gardens. I am excited to begin renovation, as decorating is another one of my passions. I love color and beauty and casualness in a home, inspired comfort. I’m not quite sure what kind of book this would be, but it might begin as non-fiction and segue into fiction—so perhaps we’ll call it“friction!”

RIDING BARRANCA is available from the TSB online bookstore. CLICK HERE to read more about the book and download a FREE EXCERPT.

Books ship May 1, 2013, but PREORDER YOUR COPY today!