Year of the Horse: a Journey of Healing and Adventure by Marjorie Simmins

An award-winning writer and journalist, Marjorie Simmins divides her time between Nova Scotia and British Columbia. Author of the popular memoir Coastal Lives, she teaches memoir writing across Canada. She shares her life with her husband, writer and filmmaker Silver Donald Cameron.
Can you think of any domesticated animal, apart from a dog that has such a rich history with humankind, are trainable, trustworthy and loyal as horses are? Being large, they command instant respect, but they can be the gentlest of creatures as well.

“Horses, they’re not dogs, that’s for sure. They have their own, more mysterious ways.”

Author and memoirist Marjorie Simmins knows of what she speaks, for her love of horses was fostered at an early age when her mother purchased a horse for her and her sister Karin, who was suffering from a drug addiction. It was hoped that a horse could help Karin to recover, but it was not to be. While Ms Simmins and her sister had many memorable times riding in Vancouver B.C., her sister eventually succumbed to her addiction. That was in the 70’s. Fast-forward to 2011, and we find the author flat on her back on the floor of an indoor riding arena, having just being thrown off a spooked horse. Pain courses up and down her right leg. Her sciatic nerve has been badly damaged and recovery will be slow, at best.

I also remember, within minutes of landing, wiggling my legs, toes, and last and gingerly, my head. I wasn’t paralyzed.
Nor was I in terrible pain, I decided. I didn’t know that the full pain had not yet descended – had no idea what lay ahead for me.
Even recalling these memories has that ghostly nerve path complaining, and I’m just sitting here at my desk, not moving a muscle. Up and around come those wispy grey bits, looking for nerve endings to shake and enliven, striking pay dirt when they do get a spark and I gasp out loud, more in remembered fear now than with acute pain.


Three months in bed, then she has to teach herself to walk again, never mind getting back on a horse.

Healing and Adventure

But get back on a horse she does, for she knows that is one of her life’s greatest joys and freedoms. The healing begins, and the progress is tedious, for nerve damage recovery is slow; not measured by days or weeks, but months and years. The year 2014 is the Chinese Year of the Horse and Ms Simmins is determined to start riding again. There’s a stable near her summer home in Cape Breton where she once again has to learn how to ride; this time with pain lurking just below the surface, along with a little fear of falling again. Then, as her confidence builds and she considers competing, there is the fear of failing, hearing the dreaded “you are excused” from the judge, which happened when she competed back in B.C. as a young girl:

“Thank you, competitor number xxx, you are excused.” That dismissal only happened once. But I may as well have been dismissed from the whole world, not just a show ring. The embarrassment made my skin hot, full of sharp tingles.

She succeeds in facing her fears and the nagging, negative voice in her head and proceeds to have an incredible year of adventures in riding, accomplishing many goals along the way, fully supported by her loving husband, author and filmmaker Silver Donald Cameron.

Conclusion

Winnie and the author

As a memoir, Year of the Horse succeeds in not being focused entirely on the writer, which is no easy challenge, but Ms Simmins manages to talk about her pain, her family, her recovery and her competing in such a way that the reader is carried along on the journey, not feeling like a bored listener trapped next to the person on a long flight, having to hear them carry on about a life you could care less about. I never felt that way once while reading Year of the Horse. Ms Simmins has a very genteel, self-deprecating manner of writing, and it was a joy to read this book.

Year of the Horse is rather educational as well, for those of us (such as I) who have only been on a horse once or twice in their lives, so know little about them. Ms Simmins explains about English vs. Western riding style, saddles and tack, and even the different types of horses. It was all very interesting, especially the competitions, sensing her nervousness as she and her mount Winnie tackle the challenges before them. Post-competition, she observes:

“I think horse magic can do that to you. Hearts are tender, mostly, and horse magic is so universe-vast at times that hearts become rivers of feelings, fast-flowing and powerful, threatening chaos. I and my river-heart didn’t mind the tumult. Look what I’d been given.”


Year of the Horse is a memoir that will be particularly enjoyed by those who love horses, professional riders or otherwise, as well as those determined to overcome any physical and/or mental challenges life confront them with. A solid 4 stars at Goodreads.

Year of the Horse: A Journey of Healing and Adventure by Marjorie Simmins
Pottersfield Press

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