Tales for Horse Lovers – Part 2
We are delighted to continue this piece about Pembrokeshire author Gillian Baxter from CAROLINE JULER. We are certain it will delight all of you horse lovers out there…
I recently borrowed some books from Gillian Baxter. Her writing spans 60 years, during which time attitudes to horse ownership have changed. Riding is no longer seen as the preserve of the rich, even if it still requires a lot of cash to keep a horse with equanimity.
Gillian’s stories favour people who are struggling to make good against the odds. In the Bracken series, we follow two competition riders, a teenager called Bobby and her boss, Guy, as they work together, fall in love with each other, get married and give birth. Like a blind jump across country, the Bracken tales vault a 50-year gap in the author’s life, picking up in 2018 where they left off in the 1970s. Apart from that leap of faith, the youngsters’ relationship isn’t an easy ride, and they have to overcome accidents, jealousy, fire, theft, deaths (of horses) – and a lot of misunderstandings.
For me, best of the four was With Vacant Possession? The central character is Patsy, a widow of 60 summers whom we first meet coaxing a horse box containing herself and two horses over the Preseli Mountains in the dark. She has driven for eight hours almost without a break. On the top, she pulls over and savours the ‘scent of growing things’. Mountain ponies emerge out of the night, heralding the wild, Welsh flavour of things to come.
Patsy’s journey to Wales is a reflection of Gillian’s move to Pembrokeshire some 25 years ago. She came here from Surrey after her husband died, bringing her two daughters, who are both keen riders like herself. Gillian’s reasons were like those of many of us ‘blow ins’: she wanted a truer, more natural life, and an escape from the intensity, aggression and traffic of the South-East. Although she hasn’t learned the language, she likes and admires the Welsh for their sense of identity.
Patsy too is starting another life but her tale differs in that (apart from her horses) she has come on her own, leaving behind a grown-up daughter who thinks her mother is crazy. Patsy has bought what turns out to be (spoiler alert) a haunted farm house. In search of new fulfilment and keeping her motherly worries firmly in hand, Patsy tries to put down roots, but the ghost seems intent on stopping her. Apart from the mother-daughter, woman-ghost relationships, one of the pleasures of this story came in identifying the real places behind the fictional ones. Patsy’s dramas are played out on the moorland hills outside my gate. The Preselis may be small in stature but to many of those who live here, they are as grand and moody as mountains, and this author knows both their beauty and their perils well.
‘It’s a pony book for adults,’ said Gillian, who has recently published a sequel, Sole Possession. She told me there is a hunger for such tales in people who grew up with the genre, and her new books are particularly popular in the USA.
Now in her eighties, Gillian no longer rides along our lane, but her appreciation of horses remains strong. She has seen it grow in others, sure that the reason why so many of us like these animals is because ‘they want to get back to basics, away from towns… towards the land, the weather, the animals… [You] share a mind and an experience… when you’re riding a horse… It’s a partnership.’
The most recent books by Gillian Baxter (Hirst) are With Vacant Possession?, Horses and Challenges at Bracken, Ambitions and Horses at Bracken and Sole Possession. They are all available from Kindle and Amazon but please consider buying from an independent bookshop or chain, such as bookshop.org or Seaways in Fishguard.
Caroline Juler is a travel writer with a number of books to her name; she is also a film maker, art critic and reviewer. You can find out more about her in our previous article.
To find work by Caroline Juler (above):
Searching for Sarmizegetusa – the online version from https://amsterdampublishers.com/books/searching-for-sarmizegetusa/
Other books include Blue Guide Romania, National Geographic Traveler Romania and Les Orientalistes de l’Ecole Italienne.
To contact Caroline: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see Caroline’s videos: visit Caroline Juler on YouTube and Vimeo.