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A Year at the Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck
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A Year at the Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  500 ratings  ·  42 reviews
Smiley draws upon her firsthand knowledge of horses, as well as the wisdom of trainers, vets, jockeys, and even a real-life horse whisperer, to examine the horse on all levels - practical, theoretical, and emotional. She shares not only "cute stories" about her own horses, but also fascinating and original insights into horse - and human - behavior. To all this she adds an ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 13th 2004 by Knopf (first published 2004)
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At times this book had me on the seat of my pants and at others I needed toothpicks to keep my eyes open as a glazed over rehashed info. And now that I've finished, I still don't know what to make of it.

It can easily be said that there are two sets of readers - those familiar and those unfamiliar with horses. Count me on the unfamiliar side. I remember childhood neighbors I played with as a child who had a horse. They were responsible for its care. I soooo wanted to ride it, but was never able
Nov 03, 2008 Helen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Students of life, anyone interested in the interactions between species
I enjoyed this book very much. Reading it was like having conversations with an educated and respected friend. I particularly liked the references to other readings that added to my understanding now only of how the equine mind works but also my own mind. Included in the bibliography and refered to often are "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences" by Howard Gardner and "A General Theory of Love" by Thomas Lewis, MD, Fari Amini, MD & Richard Lannon, MD. There are other excelle ...more
I first started reading this book last fall, but since it is often difficult for me to read books of essays straight through, I did not finish it. Then in late July Robin and I went on a road trip and we ended up reading the entire thing out loud in the car.

Smiley is a wonderful writer, and I think even non horse people might enjoy this book, but due to its subject, I did not give it a higher rating. What makes this book great for horse people is that it is not a book on training, or breeding, o
I've always had a passing interest in everything horses (while still living in reality that Mom and Dad could never buy me a pony... but I could wish there was one out in the yard anyway!), so this works as a decent horse introduction, especially if you don't have the pleasure of being around horses every day and finding out all-things-horses on your own. This was consistently interesting. I feel like I've learned a ton about horses. Knowing more about horses will also make it easier to read Sm ...more
Much of what happened during Jane Smiley's A Year at the Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck remains hidden from the reader.

What's missing? Smiley describes betting on her own horses in small amounts a couple of times. Did she really spend a year at the races and never bet another horse? Did she really never lose a bet? Wish she would have told us!

She describes herself as the mother of children, but we don't hear what happened to their father(s) or of their opinions of
I haven't read any of Smiley's fiction books but after this one I'm not running out to get one. "A Year at the Races" is somewhat misleading. Although we do follow a few of Smiley's homebred losers at the track, that's only a small part of the book. In between, I was subjected to endless philosophical and psychological drivel about horses. It's not that I believe it's hogwash but it wasn't what I wanted to read from a book called "A Year at the Races". Okay, some of it I rolled my eyes at: her " ...more
This is a book that touches on the 'sport of kings' with all the compelling action and drama off and on the racetrack and about those sunning & athletic althletes of the horse world; the Thoroughbred. It was such an insightful & informative read that one can only experiance through a very experianced and knowlegeable person who has worked within the specific industry for some time and it was certainly aparent that Jane Smiley knew what she was talking about & discussing down to the v ...more
Picked this one up at the library after being impressed with a review I had read somewhere. This book is a memoir about a year in the life of the author with her thoroughbred horses. It was interesting and did a great job chronicling the whole psychology of thoroughbred horses. Interesting thoughts and ideas about the training of the breed, what makes them champions, the frequency or infrequency of injury, their physical peculiarities, etc. I find all those subjects to be pretty interesting, as ...more
I really like Jane Smiley so I had a good feeling about this book when I found it on the paperback shelf at the library. And I was not disappointed. It's a book about a year in her life with her Thoroughbred horses. I like her frankness as she reveals her own ignorance about her learning curve, her excitement at the races, and her love for her individual horses. But what really appealed to me was her discussion about the psychology of the animals, referring extensively to many books I've read in ...more
This book was lent to me by a friend from the barn where I take English riding lessons. I did not ask to borrow it, she just gave it to me because she assumed I would enjoy it. I am not a follower of Thoroughbred racing so I did not expect to relate to it much. Boy, was I wrong. Jane Smiley was very careful not to assume that the reader would be a huge race fan so she introduced the ins and outs of racing in a way that even I could relate to. :)

The book was more about the heart of the realtionsh
An entertaining tale of Jane Smiley's love of horses, re-discovered when she was in her forties. She talks about the return to horses and her rapid embracing of the horse world - acquiring horses, trainers, gear and eventually race horses. The book is at its most interesting when she's talking about her experiences with her horses and at the racetrack. Smiley also attempts to riff on horse psychology, jumping off others' work and throwing her own suppositions out there, which ends up being a dis ...more
A delicious encore to Horse Heaven. Smiley talks about her experiences in one year of owning racing Thoroughbreds. Her nonfiction musings are just as engaging as her novels. Her stories and characterizations are delightful and thought-provoking. And it turns out Mr. T was a real horse! A very fun book, especially for Jane Smiley fans, horse crazy girls, or women who were once horse-crazy girls.
This is essentially a memoirish book about a specific time in Jane Smiley's life. She's an avid horse woman and is dabbling in racing. I've read just about everything she's written and love her. After reading this I love her even more. Such a normal, down to earth lady. She lives in Monterey, CA and when we were living there she was sitting at the table next to us at dinner one night. I was awestruck and couldn't speak to her. I recognized her from her book jackets!
Beverly Harrison Campbell
Jane could well be the best non-fiction writer out there. Most of this book was very engaging and a page turner. Some of this book fell into the T.M.I. category for me, but overall very interesting and insightful. Too bad all racehorse trainers and owners don't take Jane's lead. She is out of the box and lives exactly where the other should. The health and safety of the horse is a moral obligation, too often left on the back burner by the status quo.
My greatest take-away from A Year at the Races was a deeper understanding of the equine mind. Smiley has studied human psychology and the nature of love and affection much deeper than I have ever had any inclination to, and she has been able to turn this inquisitive nature into a fresh and fascinating exploration of How Horses Think.

Full review:
Well. The idea is great but I found this book to ramble on about things about the author that I could reall care less about. Memories from spending money on horses and at the track would be great but all the want to be psych and far fetched rattle on emotional stuff is a bit wrong. Write a book about 'my emotions and maybe my horse' and not lead readers on, readers who actually want to read a book about horses . . .
(mdc) for someone who won a pulitzer, this lady is really dippy. a year at the races is all about her horses and horses in general, which i thought would be interesting, but it is actually a lot about what her animal communicator tells her her racehorse is thinking and shit. she also proposes a myers-briggs type personality test for horses. anthropomorphization like whoa.
“Every horse story is a love story,” writes Jane Smiley. This book explores Jane's obsession with thoroughbred horses. For me, it was over-long, jumbled, and confusing. I love horses, and owned a numer of them in the past, but her rememberances of horse ownership -expensive, dangerous, and sometimes heart-wrenching- made me glad I no longer saddle up.
This was so much better than I was expecting. While it does follow Smiley's year as a racing hobbyist and contains some animal communicator silliness, it is also filled with thoroughly researched and thought-provoking questions about the nature of horses and their place in our lives. It's also nice to read a horse book by a more literary writer.
As someone who secretly wanted to be a horse racing jockey, but really knew nothing about it and someone who also loves horses for the amazing creatures they are, this book was fascinating. It's a great book for those who want an inside look at horse racing. One of my favorite non-fiction books ever.
Smiley relates her experiences racing horses in California. I can see where she got a lot of the source material for "Horse Heaven," a book I love. Her reliance on horoscopes (for the horses) is a bit odd, but she offers many reflections on the relationship between horses and humans.
The ups and downs of breeding, training and racing your own thoroughbreds. Now I know why I sometimes find horse racing a very "irritating" sport. I would just hope that all trainers and breeders would treat their "throw away" racehorses the same way that Jane Smiley does.
Really, this should be 3 1/2 stars. Smiley is an engaging narrator and a good guide through parts of the racing world with which I am totally unfamiliar. Sometimes things veered into the New Age world, which was strange, but overall an enjoying read.
I enjoyed this book about the author's experiences raising Thoroughbred horses. She digs deep into the reasons horses mean so much to humans, our relationships with them, and the many ways humans attempt to understand and control their behavior.
Susan Berry
This is a book that every perspective horse owner as well as veterans of the industry should read. Smiley has a way with words that puts the reader at ease and makes them think they are on the track, in the stable or on the horse.
I really liked this book. Since she actually has race horses, it was a good account of the races and the backside. I definitely agree with her when she says some of us just love horses, we never grow out of it.
Jane Smiley is a terrific writer. I enjoyed reading about her 'hobby' of owning racehorses and her special affinity to her horses. She shares her vulnerabilities in so many ways, which lends appeal to the book.
It was not what I thought it would be--less about the sport of horse-racing and more about human and equine psychology. Finished it anyway, because if was well written, like all her books.
I loved the psychological insight to the horses' psyche - this book was entirely well written (it IS Jane Smiley, after all) and just fascinating content wise. LOVED it!!
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Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained a A.B. at Vassar College, then earned a M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar
More about Jane Smiley...
A Thousand Acres Moo Horse Heaven Some Luck The Sagas of Icelanders

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“But what truly horsey girls discover in the end is that boyfriends, husbands, children, and careers are the substitute-for horses” 49 likes
“Fascination with horses predated every other single thing I knew. Before I was a mother, before I was a writer, before I knew the facts of life, before I was a schoolgirl, before I learned to read, I wanted a horse.” 22 likes
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