Book Review: ‘Life Without Stirrups’

‘A Witty Memoir About One Person’s Gallop Through Life’ by Dagny Mofid.

Dagny Mofid is quick to tell readers that she’s “not internationally acclaimed” as either a writer or a rider. I found myself appreciating this proclamation as I worked my through her memoir Life Without Stirrups for that very reason — Mofid’s story is every rider’s story in a certain respect, an equestrian novel for the 99% who will never compete on the international scene or win a Nobel Prize in literature.

Life Without Stirrups follows Mofid’s horse life, first as an untalented but enthusiastic youth bouncing her way through horse camps and working student positions, then as a wayward young adult who stepped completely away from the horse world before finding her way back. As Mofid and her husband Kam move frequently to follow his career opportunities, Mofid (and her increasingly horse-friendly husband) bounces from lesson barn to lesson barn until she finally takes the plunge into horse ownership.

In a familiar but still cringe-worthy move, Mofid ignores the advice of her wise riding instructor at the time and purchases a young, green Arabian gelding named Merlot who proves to be quite a lot of horse for a rider seeking a steady trail partner. Much of the storyline follows Mofid and Merlot as they move from state to state, Mofid attempting to tame her beautiful but challenging horse into the carefree trail rider she had dreamed he would become. At risk of spoiling the book, there is a happy ending — perhaps not the one we wanted to root for, but satisfying nonetheless.

I wouldn’t necessarily classify Life Without Stirrups as a literary read — it’s a light, entertaining book to which many riders might relate, and to that purpose it certainly does an admirable job reminding us that there are plenty of equestrians just like us out there full of self-doubt, realizing they’re in over their heads with a challenging horse that they just can’t bear to give up on. Mofid often shoots off on tangents that don’t accomplish much to move the story along — mostly little vignettes of interactions with her husband or neighbors.

After finishing Life Without Stirrups, I found myself wondering if this story really wasn’t supposed to be about a wild horse named Merlot but instead about Mofid’s strong relationship with her husband, who remained supportive through thick and thin even as he moved his wife and horse all over the continent from Canada to Texas and several places in between. I found myself ultimately torn between whether this story could have been refocused as a life-long love story with horses included, or tightened all the way down to a good creative non-fiction short story rather than a loose and lengthy memoir.

Regardless, Life Without Stirrups is bound to entertain the equestrian in need of a light read. Mofid’s quippy one-liners sprinkled throughout the text keep this book sassy, keeping the introspective observations about life, love and horses from getting too heavy.

Life Without Stirrups is available on Amazon.

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