A rider and journalist who knew from the age of two that horses could and would save her has found strength from them to overcome violent and sexual attacks.
Sarah Maslin Nir fell off the first horse she sat on, and she said the experience set the tone of the rest of her life.
“I was put on a horse on the lunge, aged two, and insisted I knew how to canter,” she told H&H.
“I immediately plopped off the side, the horse came barreling round and I didn’t move — and the horse jumped over me. That imprinted on me the thought that horses would always save me, and that’s been my relationship with them ever since.
“If everyone’s screaming and a horse jumps over you, you could take away the message that they’re dangerous and you fall off them, but for me, it was a safe place, and that horses were looking out for me. In various ways, they really have.”
Sarah was born and brought up in New York City, not in a horsey family, but she has always had horses in her life.
“In 2010, a home invader climbed in through my window and stabbed me while I was in bed,” she said. “After that, I suffered from hyper-vigilance and PTSD.
“I realised later that I’d become prey; I heard every noise and rustle; every air-conditioning unit was a buzz saw. That’s how horses are; they’re prey, and communicating with them in silence was my bridge back to the world I knew.
“Looking back, when I explored how I’d managed to quiet the world down, it was in a large part down to spending time with these animals, who survive despite the hostile world they live in.”
Sarah covers her own experiences in a book, out now in the UK, called Horse Crazy: The Story of a Woman and a World in Love with an Animal.
As she travelled the world with her job, from fire-ravaged California to terrorist-controlled zones in west Africa, she would, after hours, find the horses, and their stories.
“It’s a report on the world’s obsession with horses through the lens of my own,” she said. “It uses my life with horses as the thread that holds it together, and travels through the obsession in every corner of the world.”
The book tells of Sarah’s father’s survival of the Holocaust, and her lonely childhood in Manhattan. It also covers the Black cowboys — one in four cowboys was Black, but “they’ve been totally erased from the narrative because the people who wrote it were white”.
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“I hope through my explorations of horse crazies all over the world, people will understand that identity is what you make it, and horses belong to all of us,” she said.
One experience not included in the book is the serious sexual assault Sarah suffered when she was 18.
She did not report it until recently, partly because it happened in the town where she kept her horses, and she did not want it to affect her sanctuary.
“But I realised that horses don’t care, and that’s all that mattered,” she said. “They would accept me whoever I was. I was afraid to destroy that part of me, but it’s not loseable, because of who I am.”
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