A world-weary musician and a broken racehorse rescue each other in this inspirational memoir about second chances.
At 56 years of age, Gillian Wills bought her first horse on a whim. Elvis was emaciated, scarred, unruly, saddle-phobic and imbued with attitude. However, she sensed in him the remnants of a fierce pride that resonated with her own almost-lost sense of self-worth, depleted after leaving a high status job as head of a prestigious music conservatorium in Melbourne to move across the country with her partner to Queensland.
Owning a horse pushed the need for paddocks to the top of Gillian's wish list. Since her artist partner also craved land on which to build a studio, they bought a dilapidated weatherboard farmhouse on 2.5 acres and swapped city living in Brisbane for the pleasures of semi-rural Ransome. Gillian gave up her lecturing position, weekly spot on radio, and an array of exhausting consultancies to focus on freelance writing.
For a year she wore mud-stained boots and dusty jeans by day and shiny heels and black cocktail gear at night to mingle with the art cogniscenti at functions, give pre-concert talks for the Australian Chamber Orchestra and review concerts for The Australian newspaper. And she tried to ride Elvis. Elvis had been pitched to Gillian as a quiet, beginner's 'I'll-do-whatever-you-want-kind-of-horse' that could hardly summon up the energy to trot.
The truth was very different. Rehabilitating Elvis through natural horsemanship methods (horse whispering) with the help of a laconic yet seriously gifted trainer introduced Gillian to a whole new world where music was incidental and daily discussions centred on the weather, how to tell good grass from bad, and fear of the Hendra virus. She persevered with her riding lessons, ignoring the often not-so-subtle doubts that she would ever learn to ride competently, let alone be able to control a spirited mount like Elvis. Gradually Elvis' behaviour improved and Gillian's confidence grew.
Learning to assert her leadership over Elvis' daily rehabilitation program slowly but surely transformed her world. Gillian says, 'I was supposed to help Elvis, but instead he led me on an unexpected trail of self-discovery. I learned to like myself. I realised I didn't have to prove to the world I was worthy, be defined by a profession, or prove that I could achieve an impossible goal. I began to stand up for myself with my partner, employers, children, friends ... and with Elvis, of course!'
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As someone who has always yearned to own a horse I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which I read within 24 hours as I could not put it down. This biography is about Gillian's tolerant and determined attempts to restore Elvis, a broken and mistreated ex-racehorse, to full health and to give him a better life. It is also about her attempt to find a new purpose in a world very different to her usual employment within the world of music. The two themes segue beautifully. I loved that she was so truthful about her stumbling attempts to become a horse owner for the first time, such as putting tack on the wrong way round. As someone who used to volunteer at local stables in return for the odd ride, her descriptions of some of the privileged, but ill-mannered young female horse-owners, really resonated with me. As a music lover, I also appreciated her references to various musical pieces as she described a particular scene. Gillian writes honestly and her love, passion and respect for all animals as well as her family shines through. She writes with sensitivity, wisdom and wit and demonstrates a real insight into human nature generally. Her descriptions of the area in which she lives are also delightfully evocative. This book was a real pleasure to read and I would highly recommend it to animal lovers, those who want to understand more about horse ownership (it certainly shattered my rather rose-tinted view of what it means to own one of these magnificent animals) and to anyone who is thinking about making a major change in their life. I look forward to her next book.
I am not that fond of horses to be honest but thought I'd give this book a go. And I was amazed how much I enjoyed it. Because the story of the horse and the story of the author's are both heart-warming tales about second chances. And the twists and turns of the author's life magically intersect with the ups and downs of Elvis's life. I think those who like the arts, horses and memoirs will really enjoy this as much as I did. The writing is honest and vivid and I read it quickly.
Publisher should research the background before releasing the book. Names should not have been used.
Number Of Pages: 256
Published: 1st August 2015
Publisher: Finch Publishing
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 21.5 x 15.4 x 2.0
Weight (kg): 0.34