Book Review by Dorothy McDonall
Women Riders Who Could … And Did: Life Stories of Top Level Equestriennes
Author: Karma Kitaj
Publisher: Huckle Hill Press 2010
“It’s a worthwhile book for young riders who aspire to be professionals.”
Cindy Sydnor, long-listed for the U.S. Olympic Team, Dressage instructor, “R” dressage judge, USDF Examiner for Certification Program
It may seem odd to start an independent book review with a quote from one of its many testimonials, but I would have to say that this excerpt from Cindy Sydnor’s comment on the testimonial page that begins the book sums it up for me.
For a young rider embarking on a journey of a lifetime with horses, this is the type of book they might want to read; these are the types of women they’d probably want to emulate.
From Valerie Kanavy (World Champion endurance rider), overcoming serious childhood polio, to Julie Krone overcoming the effects of her parent’s divorce and becoming the first female jockey to win a Triple Crown race, this book offers plenty of inspiration. All the equestriennes noted within its pages have battled a litany of personal challenges that might distract and dissuade the less than committed. “Women Riders Who Could … And Did” provides an intimate look at the tremendous tenacity it takes to travel the road to success doing something you love.
Personal triumphs and tragedies
Most of the women highlighted have reached the pinnacle of their careers and continue to have an impact, through coaching, training and publication, even as they retire from competitive sport. Each offers a candid look at their life experiences — the personal triumphs and tragedies that have boosted and blocked and bolstered their journey.
It is worthwhile to note that many come from non-equestrian families. Even so, all were fortunate to have had at least one person during the various stages of their lives who championed their dreams. For me this is one of the compelling lessons of this book… the importance of the team behind the dreamer in achieving the dream.
Through her many interviews, Ms. Kitaj has offered a wonderfully insightful look at what it takes to excel in equestrian sport when you are fortunate enough to identify that dream in your youth and have the necessary support. As well, the variety of disciplines represented here offer an opportunity to become passingly familiar with horse sports other than your own.
A couple of points of concern
Speaking as a woman of a certain age I would like to have seen, given the author’s background as a “life coach specializing in the over-50 demographic,” more examples of women whose dreams flourished, or who made their impact a little later in life. The closest example in the book is that of the legendary Sally Swift who published her first book “Centered Riding” — perhaps one of the most influential books of its kind worldwide — in 1985 at the tender age of 71, her second book in 2002 – “Centered Riding 2: Further Explorations,” and who at the age of 95 was honoured with an Equine Industry Vision Award from Pfizer Animal Health and American Horse Publications. It is comforting to those of us with our youth long behind us to know that there is still time to make a difference doing something that we love. (Perhaps this is the subject for another book?)
However, although the book is filled with interesting and inspirational anecdotes, many of the paragraphs are poorly organized and difficult to follow. Its choppy sentence structure and thought placement makes it seem somewhat random – as if they were taken right out of the author’s interview notebook. As a writer and editor I found this to be quite distracting and was ready, on more than one occasion, to put the book down for some future attempt.
This issue is, perhaps, chiefly an editing conundrum unless – of course, the author’s intention was to convey the information in a more conversational style. The only difficulty with that is that even when writing conversationally, syntax and sentence structure needs to be correct if the thoughts and ideas are to flow and create a satisfying read. The overall impact of the book, for me at least, might have been more positive had these details been given more attention.
All that said, Ms. Kitaj has, in “Women Riders Who Could … And Did,” provided a complete and compelling capsule of inspiration that I feel will benefit any young equestrienne with dreams of becoming professional. Catching a glimpse of the grit and determination required to make dreams come true can, at the very least, help a young rider understand that obstacles encountered can, in fact help them grow to the achievement of their professional aspirations.
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