I met Merri fresh from the Seattle racetracks. She was lean and incredibly strong from tossing bales, hauling water, brushing horses, and whatever else grooms do at the horse track. (Obviously, I’m not a horsey person. But Merri is.) She put those muscles to work on our Humboldt-Toiyabe trail crew and left me in awe of her strength and endurance. While her body worked the trail, though, her eyes always lingered on the horses. Horses were her past and they would be her future.
Our former boss gave me a copy of Merri’s book, Soul Deep in Horses. Since I’d left trail crew, eighteen years ago, he told me she had gone on to work with pack stock and was now doing some sort of endurance racing. I was surprised that she continued working with horses, because I also knew of a nearly life-ending injury she’d sustained (kick to the face) from her beloved horses during the intervening years.
Knowing of her racing background and present, I was hesitant to read the book. I was impressed with the glamour of her racetrack job eighteen years ago, but I’d learned the harsh realities of racing more recently. Beneath the glitz of glossy muscles, fancy hats, and mint juleps, lies outright animal abuse. How could my horse-loving friend have returned to such cruelty?
It turns out that I should have had more faith in Merri. Her book hopscotches through time and across continents to follow her own, beautiful arc. She goes from a girl who knew all the winners of the Triple Crown to a racehorse groom yearning to overcome her fear of galloping in order to become an exercise rider to an international traveler learning the harsh realities of Irish jump racing to a nervous horse-packer in the Sierra Nevada. She leaves working horses behind to simply enjoy riding in Egypt, Zimbabwe, and New Zealand. I cheered for her as she conquered her fear of galloping and found a new passion: endurance racing. (The book is not in chronological order, so I may have the order of events a bit out of line.)
Unlike traditional, track racing, endurance racing is a humane sport emphasizing the bond between rider and horse. Teams complete trail rides of 50 or 100 miles with frequent vet checks and breaks for rest, food and water. The motto of the American Endurance Ride Conference is “to finish is to win.” By Merri’s account, endurance racing is an excuse to get away from it all and spend some time in the wilderness with your horse buddy. The “race” is incidental.
I’m so happy for my friend to have found her horsey groove. I got to know her better through her engaging writing and fantastic stories. The title of her book is Soul Deep in Horses, but it’s Merri’s heart that shines in this collection of essays.
Melde, M. (2014). Soul Deep in Horses: Memoir of an equestrian vagabond. Murphy, ID: The Equestrian Vagabond.