Book Title: She Who Rides Horses: A Saga of the Ancient Steppe (Book One) by Sarah V. Barnes
Category: Adult Fiction (18+), 267 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Lilith House Press
Release date: March 2022
Content Rating: PG. It contains two kissing scenes and the death of an animal.
Set more than 6,000 years ago, She Who Rides Horses: A Saga of the Ancient Steppe (Book One) begins the story of Naya, the first person to ride a horse.
Daughter of a clan chief, bolder than other girls but shunned by the boys because of her unusual appearance, Naya wanders alone through the vast grasslands where her people herd cattle and hunt wild horses for their meat. But Naya dreams of creating a different kind of relationship with the magnificent creatures.
One day, she discovers a filly with a chestnut coat as uncommon as her own head of red hair. With time running out before she is called to assume the responsibilities of adulthood, Naya embarks on a quest to gallop with the red filly across the boundless steppe.
Unwittingly, she sets in motion forces and events that will change forever the future of humans and horses alike.
Q: Your book is about the first person to ride a horse. How did you come up with the idea?
A: I’ve been involved with horses most of my life, so of course I’m curious about anything to do with them. From a historical standpoint, domesticating horses arguably did more to change the course of human society than any other technological development in the past 10,000 years – so how did that actually happen? For a historian who is passionate about horses, it seems like an obvious question. Still, it never occurred to me to investigate it – the time period is outside my field of expertise, for starters. Not until I had stepped away from being a professional historian and gone back to my childhood love of horses did I end up in a place where the story – in the form of a novel – could find its way to me. The short answer to the question is that I did not come up with the idea – the idea found me.
Q: Is your book mainly for horse lovers?
A: No – it’s meant to appeal to a wider audience. I describe the story as ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’ meets ‘My Friend Flicka.’ Certainly the horses, and Naya’s relationship with the red filly in particular, represent an important aspect of the story line, but readers don’t have to be horse people to connect with the characters. The challenges they face are universal.
Q: How did you do the research for your book?
A: As a former academic historian, I’m used to delving into secondary sources and then following the footnotes to more sources, and so on and so on. Because of the story’s time period – 4000 BCE – I had to draw on research in a number of different disciplines besides history, including archeology, mythology, anthropology, paleo-linguistics, genetic studies of ancient DNA… it was all fascinating. Travel to the region where the story takes place was not an option, plus a lot has obviously changed over 6,000 years, so for an understanding of the natural environment, I had to rely on images from Google Earth, plus studies of ancient geography and climatology. My aim throughout was to be as accurate as possible, even where I had to use more than a little of imagination.
Q: What’s your favorite inspirational quote?
A: David Whyte has a line in his poem What to Remember When Waking:
“To become human is to become visible while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.”
For me, this speaks to the essence of what we do as writers. Becoming visible means putting yourself and your words out there, for others to read. Writing is an inherently vulnerable act. Even if no one reads what you write other than yourself, you are still making yourself visible, if only to yourself. You are revealing what is hidden – the gift of your true self – the gift each of us alone can offer to the world. The whole poem is a powerful reminder of why we are here – and that line in particular really inspires me, especially as a writer.
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: She Who Rides Horses is my first novel. The idea came to me while at a workshop where I thought I might get inspired to start blogging – I had no intention to write a novel. Because I wasn’t working on the story fulltime, and I’m a very slow writer, it took about four years to complete the first draft, and another two before it was edited and published. The second book in the series is going somewhat more quickly and will hopefully be available later this year.
Q: Do you ever get writer’s block? What helps you overcome it?
A: Generally not – mostly because I don’t really see the story as originating with me. I’m just the conduit – the storyteller. So if I’m ever stuck, it’s usually because I’m not allowing the story to come through – I’m overthinking. If I just write what comes, I find the story takes care of itself. I do have a responsibility to do the best job that I can as a storyteller, so I spend a lot of time rewriting and editing. But the story itself seems to have an existence independent of me – all I have to do is to let it come through.
Q: What is your next project?
A: I’m nearing the end of the writing/editing process for the second book in the She Who Rides Horses series. There will be a third book, for sure, and possibly more, depending on how the story unfolds. At some point the novels will be released as an audiobook and ultimately, I’d love to see the story made into a film or limited series.
Meet the Author:
Sarah V. Barnes, Ph.D. is both an historian and a horsewoman. When Sarah is not writing stories, she practices and teaches riding as a meditative art. She also offers equine-facilitated coaching and wellness workshops.
Sarah holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and spent many years as a college professor before turning full-time to riding and writing. She has two grown daughters and lives with her husband, her dogs and her horses near Boulder, CO.
connect with the author: website ~ facebook ~ goodreads
Guest Post – Excerpt from Chapter One
It was long after noon the next day before Naya was at last able to slip away. This time she was better prepared. In a deer skin bag slung over one shoulder she carried flint tools and kindling for making fire, a flint knife and enough food to last a day, as well as a full water skin. Over the other shoulder was coiled a long length of braided rawhide, strong enough, she hoped, to restrain the filly…
She found the little band at dusk, when the sun’s afterglow cast blackening shadows across the landscape. She had just gained the top of a small rise and could see for some distance, despite the gathering darkness. There they were – blurred shapes silhouetted against the next range of hills. Succeeding ridges gained in height, verdant meadows giving way to forested slopes, behind which the sun had disappeared. The horses had led her to the edge of the grasslands…
Naya shivered in the rapidly cooling air. The horses appeared to have stopped for the evening. The mares’ heads hung low, muzzles almost touching the ground in deep relaxation and she could make out several darker shapes that must be the foals, lying in the grass at their feet. Only the stallion stood alert, scenting the air for danger before dropping his head to grab a few mouthfuls of grass. Moments later, his head lifted again, keen eyes scanning the landscape.
Naya settled herself in the deep grass and rested her folded arms atop her knees. From her vantage on the rise downwind from the small band, she could sit and keep watch without arousing suspicion… Eventually, cheek resting on her forearms, she closed her eyes, and slept…
At some point later in the night, she thought she awoke. Lifting her head from her folded arms, she checked the herd. They were as they’d been before, dozing in the lee of the hillside across from the rise where she sat. Even the stallion had relaxed his vigilance and stood with his head lowered. The full moon now rode high in the sky, bright enough to cast faint shadows. As Naya’s eyes adjusted to the night, the moon’s light illuminated a faint track leading down the rise at an angle from where the horses rested. She hadn’t noticed it before.
Rising, Naya moved as silently as she could, following the path in the moonlight. Soon, she found herself ascending another small rise, then descending, then rising again, until at last she stood at the edge of a ravine. Below, she could see a stream, shining in the moonlight, gurgling quietly as it flowed over its stony bed… Slipping and sliding, Naya made her way down the steep slope, scratching her skin against sharp rocks and thorny underbrush. At last she reached the bottom and looked around her. Along the ravine’s floor, smooth white stones marked the water course… Drawn onward, Naya followed the path upstream into a grove of trees.
There, a wondrous sight met her eyes. Oaks and birches encircled a small pool of water, fed by an underground spring. Reflected in the pool’s clear, still surface was the round orb of the moon, casting its light from high above the rocky cliffs which formed the pool’s backdrop. Beside the pool stood the red filly, burnished coat softly aglow. Naya froze, rooted as if she were one of the trees, and stared. The filly, startled by the girl’s approach, stared back. Neither moved. Eventually, Naya remembered to breathe. In the next moment, she realized that she had left her rope, along with everything else she’d brought with her, back on the rise. Still, she and the filly stood motionless, looking at one another.
In that moment, Naya’s senses underwent an almost imperceptible shift; the moonlight became just a little brighter, the stream’s murmur became just a little louder, the slight breeze rustling the leaves in the trees became just a little fresher against her skin. In the next moment, she seemed to feel the filly’s thoughts.
I will grant your heart’s desire, but only if you are able to grant mine. The musical voice resonated within the core of Naya’s being, even though no sound other than the splash of flowing water and whisper of the wind in the trees disturbed the silence of the grove. What is your heart’s desire?
Awestruck, Naya could only gaze back at the young horse, who now regarded her with luminous dark eyes in which fear had given way to curiosity. Finally, she found her own voice. “I wish to be with you,” she said simply. “I wish to touch your coat.” Then, from deep inside, another longing welled up, a yearning so audacious she almost couldn’t bring herself to speak. Hesitatingly, she uttered the words. “I wish,” she said, “to ride upon your back.”
Ah, the red filly seemed to reply, if this is indeed your deepest desire, then you must see with the eyes of your heart and create ties without the use of a rope. And when you have succeeded in granting my heart’s desire, then shall yours be granted also.
Before Naya could begin to ponder the meaning of the words, the filly brushed past her in a chestnut blur and was gone, disappearing through the trees toward the mouth of the ravine. Gazing after her, Naya shook her head, as if to clear her senses. Water still flowed in the creek and a breeze still rustled among the leaves. The moon still cast its dim glow – but the moment of utter clarity had vanished, just as suddenly as the young horse. Shaking herself again, as if awakening from a dream, Naya retraced her steps to the mouth of the ravine. There was no sign of the red filly…