A compelling and provocative essay collection that smashes stereotypes and redefines the meaning of the term “horse girl,” broadening it for women of all cultural backgrounds.
As a child, horses consumed Halimah Marcus’ imagination. When she wasn’t around horses she was pretending to be one, cantering on two legs, hands poised to hold invisible reins. To her classmates, girls like Halimah were known as “horse girls,” weird and overzealous, absent from the social worlds of their peers.
Decades later, when memes about “horse girl energy,” began appearing across social media—Halimah reluctantly recognized herself. The jokes imagine girls as blinkered as carriage ponies, oblivious to the mockery behind their backs. The stereotypical horse girl is also white, thin, rich, and straight, a daughter of privilege. Yet so many riders don’t fit this narrow, damaging ideal, and relate to horses in profound ways that include ambivalence and regret, as well as unbridled passion and devotion.
Featuring some of the most striking voices in contemporary literature—including Carmen Maria Machado, Pulitzer-prize winner Jane Smiley, T Kira Madden, Maggie Shipstead, and Courtney Maum—Horse Girls reframes the iconic bond between girls and horses with the complexity and nuance it deserves. And it showcases powerful emerging voices like Braudie Blais-Billie, on the connection between her Seminole and Quebecois heritage; Sarah Enelow-Snyder, on growing up as a Black barrel racer in central Texas; and Nur Nasreen Ibrahim, on the colonialist influence on horse culture in Pakistan.
By turns thought-provoking and personal, Horse Girls reclaims its titular stereotype to ask bold questions about autonomy and desire, privilege and ambition, identity and freedom, and the competing forces of domestication and wildness.
About the Author
Halimah Marcus’s short stories and essays have appeared in One Story, BOMB, The Literary Review, Amazon Original Stories, the Out There podcast, Indiana Review, Gulf Coast, The Southampton Review, and elsewhere. She is the executive director of Electric Literature, an innovative digital publisher based in Brooklyn, and the editor-in-chief of its weekly fiction magazine, Recommended Reading, which she co-founded. She has an MFA from Brooklyn College and lives in the Catskill region of New York.
"A stunning, bountiful collection that brims with feeling and insight, these essays lead us boldly through the intricacies of a longstanding cultural myth, taking wild turns that vividly exemplify the ineffable yet inextricable bond between human and animal. Set aside your preconceptions and let go of your stereotypes, because equine lover or not, Horse Girls will surely knock you off your feet."
— Meredith Talusan, author of Fairest
"More than a fun romp through gorgeous prose by some of our finest contemporary writers, Horse Girls is a sublime exploration of the ways horses bring together the physical and the spiritual; the masculine and the feminine. Funny, earnest, sexy and unexpected, this is a book to read by flashlight and pass around to all your old friends."
— Emma Copley Eisenberg, author of The Third Rainbow Girl
“A wild, rollicking ride into the heart of horse country—these essays get at what it means to love horses, in all that love's complexity.”
— Anton DiSclafani, author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls
“I loved this book and could relate to so many of the stories it contains. Horse Girls is a book for all, combating stereotypes and casting a shining light upon the incredible bond between human and beast.”
— Kareem Rosser, author of Crossing the Line
“[A] dynamic anthology . . . The essays are tender, critical, and deeply personal, and the universal themes of growth and belonging come through consistently but, refreshingly, never feel repetitive. Eminently thoughtful and fascinatingly intimate, this goes a long way toward shattering a stereotype.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"This is not your mother’s anthology of equestrian memoir (though she’ll probably like it) . . . In offering a broad array of perspectives across culture, class, and gender Horse Girls upends the rarified stereotypes of privilege and exclusivity so often ascribed to the wealthy, white 'horsey set.'"
— Literary Hub (Most Anticipated Books of 2021)
"What Halimah Marcus (a self-identifying horse girl) does so beautifully in this anthology is show the other side of horse girls, revealing that they aren't all wealthy white girls, and that their passion for horses speaks to other desires simmering just under the surface."
— Refinery 29 (38 Books You'll Want to Read This Summer)
“Anyone looking to connect with the fire in the belly of their girlhood, or anyone simply drawn to books about people and their passions, will find something to love about Horse Girls.”
— Washington Post
“A graceful and straight-shooting compendium of essays. In [the introduction essay] Marcus writes achingly about her own long and winding path to rediscovering joys of horseback riding after a long time away.”
— Oprah Daily
“Intimate and probing . . . . If riding horses means borrowing freedom, as the adage goes, this anthology most powerfully and poignantly grapples with what someone might be trying to free themselves from when they seek out these animals. These writers' stories will resonate with those who were themselves, or have ever loved, a horse girl. Each piece reflects the pain, love, gentleness and complexities of life that are wrapped up in that bond.”
— Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“All readers, whether they love riding or have never seen a horse up close, will appreciate these essays. This collection not only shares multiple perspectives from the communities of riders and horse fans but also provides commentary on growing up and dealing with both disappointments and successes.”
— Library Journal
"Halimah Marcus edited this inspiring collection of stories about young women’s relationships with horses and horse culture. Whether you had your own horse, or just really wanted one, you’ll find much to love here."
— Bustle (10 Great New Books to Read This Week)
"Before reading the outstanding anthology Horse Girls, edited by Halimah Marcus, I had always puzzled over my time with horses . . . . Now I’m itching to know that freedom and fear again.”
— Los Angeles Times