Winston Churchill once said:
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
Truer words have never been spoken, though in my case, and in the case of the author of this personal journey, Nancy Shulins, it would be the inside of a woman.
“Falling For Eli: How I Lost Heart, Then Gained Hope Through the Love of a Singular Horse” is a beautiful, honest, brave story told by Nancy Shulins about how a horse changed her. An old friend recommended this book to me knowing how much I love horses, and how important my own horse, Jordan, a rescued retired hunter/jumper, is in my life. Even though my knees stopped me from riding YEARS ago, seeing Jordan, and the other horses (and pony) in the barn is better than therapy.
The impact horses have had on people is not new, of course. People and horses have been bound one to another for centuries. People, and often women, have a special relationship with horses. This is the story of one such woman. But one need not be a horse lover to know the therapeutic benefit that animals can bring to our lives. Or to relate to the impact Eli had in the life of the author.
The story Ms. Shulins told was riveting of the why, and the how, she came to own Eli. It is a heart-rending tale, one that displays brutal honesty as Shulins reveals her flaws, hopes, fears, and triumphs. And how Eli, the 16.2 hands high Thoroughbred (which equals 5’6″ at the withers, and is the same height as my horse, Jordan), came to fill a huge hole in her heart.
And Shulins did have a heart in need of healing. For years, Shulins and her husband tried to have children, to no avail. After one last unsuccessful attemt, Shulins, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the AP, just shut down emotionally.
While going through the grief of her recent loss, her husband called a friend of his who managed a stable. She invited her to come see the horses. Shulins hadn’t ridden in years, and never seriously. She was going to put off this friend of her husband’s, but after speaking to her on the phone, decided to go after all. And her life was never the same after that.
The change began first with getting to know this friend of her husband’s, Susan, and her horse, Frank. Then she got to know others in the stable, both human and horse. Watching the trainer, Karen, was an “Aha!” moment, one anyone who has ever seen dressage could understand – the seemingly effortless ballet between horse and rider.
Eli had been brought to the stable where Nancy was spending her time, as a possible Dressage horse. And he was for sale. Shulins mentioned a number of times the adage that one should never buy the first horse at whom one looked. But Eli was different. From the curmudgeonly vet who actually smiled at Eli, and praised him for being a wonderful horse to the trainer who test-rode him, he received compliments for being such a calm horse. And Nancy was smitten by him.
Like anyone, human or animal, horses have individual personalities with different likes, dislikes, or things that might set them off. That was certainly true for Eli and inanimate objects that might be in the ring. And it is true for my horse, Jordan, who is terrified of a neighbor’s pig who has gotten into their barn before. Jordan is many times this pig’s size, but something about that pig just freaks him out. Generally, Jordan is a playful, curious, even funny horse (he has a great sense of humor). It is his curiosity, no doubt, that has enabled him to reach the age of 29, and to be in good health (generally).
Through it all, though, the relationship Shulins has with Eli has been a constant presence, along with the love she devotes to him. In many respects, it is nothing short of a love story, a heart healed.
Whether you are a horse lover or not, Falling For Eli will fill your heart with its moving story of a woman and her horse. And the many ways by which Eli changed her sorrow to joy. He helped open her heart to him, obviously, but also to those around her, allowing her to embrace the mothers and their children in her neighborhood. Eli helped her heart to heal, and that is no small thing. I hope you will give it a read!
UPDATE: I made a factual error in this review – as much as I think Ms. Shulins deserves a Pulitzer, she has received two nominations for one, but did not win. My apologies for the mistake, though it doesn’t change one whit how fantastic this book is!