It must be wonderful to know what you want to do with your life at a young age–at least I’ve always thought so. Certainly the kind of self-assurance which inspires an early career choice must be lasting. Well, not necessarily. Sometimes seeing your whole life laid out before you can be as frightening as not knowing what you want to do at all. Just ask Alex in Natalie Keller Reinert’s The Head and Not the Heart . . .
Natalie Keller Reinhart has spent most of her life around a
horse. So it’s not surprising that her novel The Head and Not the Heart should resonate so clearly with professional
equestrians in almost any discipline. It’s a
fine line they walk, those who
love horses and also earn their living by them. It’s an arduous work schedule,
even on the best of days. And make no
mistake, it is not just a job, it’s more than a career, it is a lifestyle.
Every aspect of one’s day, one’s season, one’s life, is dictated by the needs and
of the horse and the barn.
novel’s heroine, Alex, things are no different.
As is the case with many horse people, her lifestyle choice was made at
a young age. The setting is an Ocala farm where she works and lives with her employer
and lover (twice-her-age lover), Alexander. When we meet her she is twenty-five
years old, already a veteran horsewoman in many ways–a knowledgeable and capable
old soul. But she is also a vibrant and romantic–in the broad definition of
the word–young woman. The ups and downs of the farm and training life cannot
but affect the life and relationship she has with Alexander. On the eve of a last-minute trip to New York (to
examine a horse in training at Aqueduct Race Track) Alex examines her life as
it is–current professional and personal stresses fully comingled. It’s all
prescient of the life which lies before her and she suddenly wonders if this is
it, if it’s enough.
people have these crises of life a bit further on, for many who choose an
equestrian career, one decade can feel like two or three–both psychologically
and emotionally. When it comes to Alex’s situation there are several pros and
cons for her to consider, but it’s the cons that are on her mind in New York. Her
planned evening in the city consists of a dinner with an older (senior-citizen
older) horseman friend of Alexander’s and then turning in early to be at the
track at dawn. After dinner she spies a group of New York twentysomethings
headed out for the night and their carefree life sets her thinking about her
own–what would her life be like if . . .
follows the jovial group to a club and ends up befriending them, spending the
evening drinking with them, talking to them, telling stories and comparing
notes. Most of her newfound friends can’t even conceive of a life like hers,
they have no frame of reference for what an equine life entails. Alex considers
and compares herself to her new friends and giving up her racing life seems
like a very viable option. Certainly, the hangover she has only a few hours
later when she is already at the track might have swayed her to consider a
lifestyle with a less rigorous schedule.
What goes through her mind when she
sees this potential addition to the barn? Will this horse be different?
Will he be the barn’s “big horse”–the one that makes a career, that makes
history? Or will he be heartache and dashed hopes? This is the emotional
pendulum that racehorse trainers experience with every new trainee. Is Alex
willing to go through this again, over and over, for the rest of her life? Can
she handle feeling those emotions indefinitely? Will she choose another life?
Will she follow her head or her heart?
These thoughts, these feelings of
uncertainty are the same that everyone has either had, or will have at some
point–at least once. The choices we make in those moments are based on the
information we have at the time, just like Alex does in The Head and
Not the Heart. She’s easy to relate to–equal parts doubt and hope, insecurity
and confidence. I think she’s inspiring, and will nudge her readers to face
their own crises. After all, no matter what decision one makes, it will be the
right decision . . . at least . . . it will be at the time.
The Drowning People by Richard Mason