“Are you a Lizzy, or are you an Emma?” If you’re involved in the dressage scene at all, you may have pondered this question over the past year. If you’re not familiar with the allusion, let me explain: Lizzy and Emma are two central characters in Karen McGoldrick’s charming first novel, The Dressage Chronicles (2011). Chronicles follows the journey of Lizzy – a twenty-something dressage devotee, and working student – into the upper echelons of Florida dressage society. Emma, Lizzy’s co-worker at Equus Paradiso Farm, is a tall blonde Grand Prix rider whose cool (seeming) perfection provides the perfect counterfoil to Lizzy’s quirky fallibility. Although this brief description may make the two characters seem clichéd, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the author’s clever use of industry stereotypes such as “The Dressage Queen” and “The Working Student” only serves to shatter those limiting notions of identity. Throughout the book we meet a vivid and entertaining cast of characters from Frank Cavelli, the wealthy HSH (horse show husband) and owner of Equus Paradiso; to lanky eventer Ryan; and finally the aging yet still marvelous FEI rider, Margot Fanning.
McGoldrick’s attention to detail, solid development of both human and equine characters, and flair for story-telling recreates a horse show world many of us know and love (or at least love to hate). Whether you’re a dressage insider or a non-riding horse lover, The Dressage Chronicles’ fresh style and confidential approach makes for an addicting read. In fact, the book feels more like a chat with friends over a bottle of vino, than a dissertation on equestrianism.
This is key to McGoldrick’s approach. She notes: “My concept was to add something of value to all the good dressage works out there. I wanted to teach about dressage through telling a story. After all, I have learned so much real history through reading historical fiction, why not do the same with dressage?” Readers of any riding skill level will learn a great deal about life on the show circuit, and get an inside – and honest — glimpse into the blood, sweat, and tears existence of working students.
However, though such technical details add to the book’s realism, the connections and collisions between characters are what make it a standout. As McGoldrick says, “through a novel I can talk about the emotional journey we all go through as we tackle outer and inner demons. I can talk about . . . the journey. I hope [this] resonates with my readers.”
As a dedicated Chronicles fan, I can certainly vouch for its resonance! From break-ups to break-downs and everything in between, Karen McGoldrick proves again and again that no matter which side of the manure pile you’re from, the view from the horse’s back is still the same.
So . . . wanna know if you’re a Lizzy or an Emma? Canter straight down center line to The Dressage Chronicles , halt at X, and purchase a copy immediately. While you’re there, check out the author’s handy-dandy Training Journal (a companion / diary to The Dressage Chronicles).
Until next time,
PS – Ms. McGoldrick is currently working on a much anticipated follow-up to The Dressage Chronicles. She maintains a Facebook fan page, and eagerly reads and responds to her Amazon.com reviews. How many authors do you know who are that accessible?
PSS – Le Doux, Luna, Phoebe, Tansy, Paisley, Violet, Buttercup, and Teddy the Pomeranian all say, “Read the book! You won’t regret it.”