Book Review: ‘Forever Amber’

By Katy Dixon.

Title: Forever Amber
Author: K.J. Dixon
Pages: 286

If your beloved childhood pony was diagnosed with a fractured leg, you might think things couldn’t get any worse. So thought Katy Dixon when her pony Amber came in from the field with an injured hind leg — until Amber became dangerously ill at the same time. Dixon documents the twists and turns of Amber’s long road to recovery from a fracture and a nearly-deadly bout of salmonella in the autobiographical Forever Amber, a story celebrating the resilience of life and the strength of persistence.

To help illustrate the bond between herself and Amber, Dixon rewinds all the way to her early childhood where her love for horses developed. Her early development as an equestrian is a classic tale that many readers might recognize; she learns to ride by bouncing along on chubby, furry ponies at a Cheshire-based yard before persistently asking her parents (and the aptly-named Bank of Dad) for a pony of her own. Despite being in way over their heads, Katy and her family find a beautiful and athletic pony named Amber.

Where most young riders would eventually graduate from a pony to a horse, Katy chooses to keep Amber, knowing full well that she would be left behind in the competitive world. Katy brings Amber along to her first internship, boarding her at a local stable. It’s here that many things happen all at once: Amber comes in from the pasture one day with an injured leg that turns out to be a fractured splint bone and a cracked cannon bone. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that the gravest problem is not the injury but a sudden and fast-moving illness that brings Amber to the brink of death. Told one day at a time, Katy details not only the veterinary struggles of treating Amber’s illness but her personal emotional battles raging as well as she grapples with the reality of potentially losing her beloved pony.

Forever Amber is a relatively quick read and I quickly found myself invested in each new twist and turn in Amber’s months-long battle with a broken leg and complications from salmonella. Sprinkled throughout the storyline are quick gems of equestrian truths that readers will appreciate, Dixon’s observations and beliefs about horse life. A few of my favorites:

  • “In truth I don’t think it matters one bit if you turn out to be the next John Whitaker or if you just end up going on the occasional hack around your local village […] I’ve never been obsessed with horse riding; I’ve just been obsessed with horses.”
  • “If you’re a father and you don’t want your daughter(s) going out drinking and being obsessed with boys then buy them a pony […] It’s a win-win situation for dads with daughters everywhere.”
  • “I don’t believe that caring for your horse needs to involve thousands of pounds; if you’re determined and prepared to put in the hours there’s no reason your horse can’t receive five-star treatment.”

Throughout the text there are a number of spelling and punctuation errors that unfortunately detracted from the reading experience; after the first few chapters I started to feel like I was reading someone’s loose, baggy blog rather than a carefully-crafted story. There are frequent shifts in tense, especially in the early chapters; at one point quite early in the book Dixon leaps from describing her childhood to describing the kind of riding she and Amber are doing to this day which removes all of the suspense from later chapters. Dixon attempts to rebuild this suspense later on as she recounts Amber’s medical struggles but fails to really capture that sense of the unknown.

Opening each chapter with a veterinary report is helpful for contextualizing Amber’s illness and helping the reader track daily progress; I would have liked more medical information like this to help educate the reader about the various stages of the pony’s illness and recovery. More veterinary input would have been helpful for trying to pinpoint the book’s overall message — Dixon tries to reach several conclusions at once, from supporting a do-it-yourself approach to caring for horses, to the power of a strong friendship/mentor relationship, to trying to counter today’s “throwaway” culture. While the general spirit of the book is uplifting, Dixon’s multiple conclusions dilute the overall message.

Overall, Forever Amber is a quick and entertaining read about overcoming huge obstacles, viewed through the lens of the bond between horse and owner.

Forever Amber is available at Amazon.

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