That Horse Crazy Girl

Sarah Maslin Nir’s memoir Horse Crazy speaks to the horse lover in all of us, about the animal that holds our affection.

By Abigail Boatwright

“I was bold on a horse, as tall as I last felt inside, as powerful and in control as a child is not in any other part of her life.”

In her book, Sarah Maslin Nir’s poetic description of being 2 years old, riding a Paint gelding named Guernsey, is instantly relatable for any horse lover. That’s because she, too, is tenaciously devoted to these beautiful four-legged creatures.

Sarah is a Pulitzer Prize award finalist, and during her tenure as a journalist with the New York Times, she’s crafted hard-hitting articles about marginalized communities and documented the social life of New York City residents. But her book Horse Crazy: The Story of a Woman and a World in Love with an Animal is her first foray into memoir. Deeply personal, it’s also an homage to the power and beauty of the horses we all adore.

A Safe Place

Sarah grew up in Manhattan, the bustling, beating heart of New York City. The daughter of a Holocaust survivor-turned-respected-child-psychiatrist father and a well-known psychologist mother, Sarah’s love of horses from age 2 was baffling to her non-horsey parents.

Sarah cobbled together a life intertwined with horses. It started with Guernsey, a gentle school horse covered with brown-and-white patches, like the cow for which he was named. He was so well-known, Sarah recalls, that people called his name when he walked down the street, and the horse was given an obituary in the local newspaper when he died.

“He was a community member,” Sarah said. “I think it speaks to the gift that horses are. They give it not just to the people that ride them, but also the people who watch them graze in beauty in a field.”

Sarah discovered a riding academy hidden in the middle of New York City and further developed her horsemanship cantering around Central Park aboard various equines housed in the multi-story facility. Although dual-income, her family had scratched their way into a middle-class status, which afforded a comfortable life but no room to pay for a horse of Sarah’s own. So along the way, she jumped at the opportunity to work with horses at any chance.

Away from the barn, Sarah struggled with feelings of inadequacy compared to her wealthier private-school classmates and with a sense of being an outsider even in her own family, always working to earn her father’s love while battling blame heaved on her shoulders by older stepbrothers, who blamed Sarah for their parents’ divorce. But in the comforting confines of the stable, Sarah found solace in the pure hearts of horses. Their soft nickers gave her a sense of belonging she didn’t find anywhere else.

“Horses don’t care about [wealth], they care that we are their safe place to be,” Sarah said, “In that way, they remind you what’s important, and how to live in the world.”


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2022 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.