In her debut novel, Hope explores what happens when characters obsessed with the world of horse eventing have to choose between competition and personal relationships.
Nikki is an accomplished dressage and steeplechase competitor struggling to conquer her high-spirited horse; her lack of confidence has kept her from competing at the highest national and international levels. Her aloof husband, Cliff, jealous of her love for horses but unable to deny her passion, “buys” her a horse trainer for their 15th anniversary. Gabe is half paralyzed following a riding accident, but in Nikki, he sees his second chance to compete vicariously at the highest level. Despite injuries both human and equine, Nikki and Gabe’s relationship deepens, making their spouses angry and leading, ultimately, to violence and tragedy. As in professional ballet, there is a particular romanticism that surrounds the world of competitive riding. Hope strips this away to reveal the sordid, corrupt, and obsessive underbelly that lies beneath the polished, trained surface. Some of the offhand comments about the complicated relationships between horse owners with money and the riders/trainers who work for them provide a deeper lens into the dysfunction, but most of the action seems more like a soap opera than the exploration of a competitive sport. The riding takes a back seat to the rather uninteresting questions of whether Nikki and Gabe are going to sleep together and whether their spouses, punishing them pre-emptively, would really care that much. Ultimately, we don’t either. The horses end up the most interesting characters in the novel because they are granted more unpredictable personalities, and their “dark urges [and] bright lusts” seem much purer than those of their human counterparts.
Even those who love horses, or perhaps especially those who love horses, will eventually be disillusioned by the flat, manipulative characters.