Finding time to settle down with a book in the midst of the competition season might sound unlikely. But if you do manage to steal away a few hours, The Wild Other by Clover Stroud should be at the top of your list, says Horse & Hound's features editor Madeleine Silver
If ever we needed proof of the healing power of horses, this is it.
Writer and journalist Clover Stroud’s memoir ‘The Wild Other’ will choke you from the off. At the age of just 16, the author’s mother had a riding accident on an icy November morning that left her first in a coma, and then with such severe head injuries that she lived out the rest of her life in a home with round-the-clock care.
“I cannot look back on my life without seeing a jagged dark scar through the moment that separates the time immediately before the accident from the time after,” writes Clover.
“Even the year before the accident is smudgy in my head, like someone has loaded a gun and there’s a timer counting down to the really terrible thing that none of us can stop happening.”
This accident cut short an idyllic childhood in rural Wiltshire and runs as a backdrop throughout her adult life, as Clover embarks on a wild journey travelling from gypsy camps in Ireland, to the rodeos of west Texas and then to Russia’s war-torn Caucasus.
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As a child, Clover and her siblings (one of which is Nell Gifford, who runs Giffords Circus) lived in the village of Minety, in a house separated from the church by a high limestone wall. Clover would make “achingly long sermons pass faster by flicking through the prayer book and mentally inserting the names of boys from Pony Club that I hoped I might marry in the order of marriage service”, and used to win rosettes on her pony Pudding for being the most determined rider. Ponies provided a haven from school, which “was like a foreign land that I could forget existed when I got home”.
Following her mother’s accident this ability of horses to numb her pain or transport her to a happier place became a precious tool for coping with grief.
Whether getting high on the adrenalin of exercising local racehorses or being immersed in the male-dominated world of rodeo riding, horses are the constant throughout her life, with the White Horse at Uffington (near where she grew up and later moved back to) providing a reminder of what she was missing if her passion ever waned. “Horses are the source of powerful magic that’s changed my life,” she writes.
Climbing aboard after a break from the saddle she says: “I feel all of this powerful horse like a spring beneath me, so I stand up in my stirrups to lean over his neck. Bally jumps forward at the bottom of the gallop and new life is flickering inside me before the ground rushes forward and we’re galloping, we’re flying, we’re going home.”
You will reach the end of this book feeling exhausted, a little envious of Clover’s bottomless zest for life — and grateful that you too know that to talk about horses as just a sport or hobby is a wild underestimation.
The Wild Other by Clover Stroud is published by Hodder & Stoughton
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