When most women go through a mid-life crisis, they start a diet, get plastic surgery, or have an affair. My life went to the dogs...and horses...and llamas... and did I mention happy hour with the goats?
My urban world came apart, so I took a leap of faith and crash-landed on a dilapidated would-be horse farm on the flat, windy, treeless prairie of Colorado. It was a place where white horses turn pink at sunrise and I didn't have to worry about locking the back entry to the house, because the door was missing. The biggest social event of any week was greeting the trash man on Tuesday. And what should I do about the deceased llama in the laundry room?
Any decent midlife crisis has a quality of time travel, in this case swinging back to my childhood farm and my disconnected, secretive family, then forward to the animals who became my family on the prairie. My dogs and horses were soon joined by some line-dancing llamas and a biker-gang of goat kids, defying gravity and every other rule. I rescued an abused donkey who told me he was Ernest, and Windy, an un-wanted chestnut mare who became our beloved herd matriarch. Even Fred, the duck lived by a code.
It's the memoir of my bittersweet transition from a mid-life orphan to a modern pioneer woman, building an entirely different kind of family farm.
Stable Relation appeals to all animal lovers, midlife survivors, and anyone whose parents had problems of their own. It's told in a strong, bittersweet voice, sharing life and death on a small farm and the healing power of animals: James Herriot meets Janette Walls.
Anna Blake was born in Cavalier County, North Dakota, in 1954, the youngest daughter of a farm family. She is a horse advocate, writer, speaker, and equine professional, teaching communication skills and dressage to horses and riders of all disciplines. She’s the award-winning author of two books: Stable Relation, a Memoir of One Woman’s Spirited Journey Home, by Way of the Barn, and Relaxed & Forward: Relationship Advice from Your Horse.
Previously, a self-employed goldsmith for thirty-five years, showing one-of-a-kind artwork in galleries from coast to coast. Her Denver studio and gallery was shared with generations of good dogs and she dabbled in writing screenplays, one of which was produced independently.
She posts a successful, yet unconventional blog (www.annablakeblog.com) about life on her farm and horse training from a unique perspective that affirms her humorous and inspirational approach to understanding, training and loving animals.
A second blog about writing can be found on her author website (www,annablake.com).
When friends ask me why I like to read memoirs I usually say it's because I'm the curious sort. Perhaps that's just another way of saying I'm nosy, but there you have it. I like to read about how other people have navigated the challenges they've met in life. Because we all have them, you know. Some memoirs do a great job of telling you about everything that went right or wrong, but fail to really explore the nuts and bolts of the journey. That's not a criticism; everyone tells their story their own way and for different reasons. But I happen to be most fond of the memoirs that tackle the grittier stuff. The stuff that makes you have to put the book down and really chew on the words for a bit.
Stable Relation is that kind of memoir. A perfect blend of tongue-in-cheek humor, confessional and a heaping dash of salt-of-the-earth common sense. This book not only challenges how you think and feel, but encourages you to become more present and aware of your path in life. Yes, there were several Kleenex moments for me. Actually, I lost count, but I'm a woman of a certain age and I've earned the right to lean more toward the sentimental side now. And no, I'm not ashamed. You won't be either. It's OK.
This memoir is about Cattle Dogs, Dobies, mutts, ducks, horses, llamas and goats. There are blizzards, bad memories, blistering sun and batty first dates, as well as the occasional flashback about dysfunctional family, distant relatives and old friends. Anna makes it pretty clear from the start that her birthright was an early life chock full of crap and crisis. By the time she hit midlife she was at a crossroad. She wanted to exorcise the crazy and decided to use a career dilemma as her turning point. With little more than burning passion, determination and an abundance of elbow grease, Anna begins to carve out a place of her own on the prairie.
As the story unfolds, Anna talks about becoming temporarily attached to the various assortment of birds and critters that share the daily routine at her farm. I can relate. The first Spring on my farm we were visited nightly by a methodical, comedic female raccoon who not only stopped by to see what we might have to offer, but for several years thereafter brought her entire family along for the ride! (We called her Sport) And I still search the trees by the pond where I once photographed a one-eyed hawk. I have no reason to believe she might still be around, except that I'd like to think she is. Anna writes about her awe for the creatures and the unique environment she shares with them, in spite of life's ups, downs and (often times) harsh lessons. Anyone who grew up on a farm knows that as beautiful as farm life can be, an unforgiving and harsh reality is always lurking in the shadows. Survival depends on balancing what is perfect and good with the fear of what that can morph into in the blink of an eye. Mention the word colic around any horse person and you'll see what I mean.
Anna shares several experiences that helped her find the strength to push past a miserable start in life and mature into a woman who, above all, values and models grace, kindness and generosity of heart and spirit. What makes this book so special is the hilarious cast of characters who mentor Anna on this journey and help her build a new trust in the healing balm of love. If you're anything like me, you'll be humbled by the author's unfiltered adoration and devotion for her charges and impressed by her intuitive, gentle approach. These gifts seem especially unique given how little love or compassion she was shown as a child. How does one learn to use these tools if they've never been taught? Anna shows you how. And if she can do it, so can you.
I started out reading this memoir slowly. I wanted to savor every chapter. But as the story continued I no longer had to force myself to slow down rather, I NEEDED to read it slowly.
This book is not just good.
It's not just a winner.
And if Stable Relation is any indication of what we might be hearing from Anna in the future, I can't wait for more!
From the dedication to the final sentence, I was captivated and inspired. In "Full Moon Over Broken Glass," I feel as if I'm right there on the porch, exhausted from the first day of work much harder than imagined in that first place of your very own. In "Dogs to the Rescue" we are introduced to a timid rescued doberman and a cattle dog who lives up to his lofty name of Hero. Anna's insight into animal personalities (animalities?) is incredible. I really feel like I've met all these characters. "Die Hard on the Prairie" is a rhythmically paced account of a terrifying blizzard in which shivered along with the horses in their snow-bound stalls. "Wild Texas Wind" describes the grace and sacrifice of an equine mother and the moonlit gift she gave. "Visitors by Bus" is possibly my favorite chapter - one animal after another astonishes with its intuitive compassion to members of an unlikely audience. Anna's dressage partner, Spirit, is the shining white thread that weaves the story together, and you will thrill to their victories and admire their deep relationship of mutual devotion and respect. In the book's final third, we follow Anna with a sense of dread and foreboding into a dark past that shattered her sense of self and belonging, and back into the healing pastures of her herd.
The very best books are those with pages and passages we can hang on to like our own. For a memoir to succeed, it needs to be relatable, and in this way Anna draws us in. Even when our experiences differ, Anna taps in to the universal bond between the human who is open to listening, and the animal that has wisdom to share. There is something for every animal lover, introvert, and independent mind here. Stable Relation is just the right length - the tidy chapters leave you hungry for more like the very best small-course meal, and by the end you realize the book contains so much more than could really fit between those covers. There is no sentimentality here - Anna describes with gutsy honesty the truth of living on a farm, both as a child and as an adult. You form a relationship with loss almost as if it were an animal of its own - a sneaky beast that finds us in snowstorms, quiet evenings or broad daylight. She manages to perfectly balance gravity with humor, the mood changing with the moment with the immediacy of a horse's presence.
I laughed at the antics of goats, ducks and donkeys. I cried at the profound and intimate impact that animals had on Anna's life, just as they have had on anyone who has allowed themselves to love in that wild and wordless way, while they are here, while they are leaving us, and long after they are gone. If you have ever saved your own life, if an animal was ever the one to save you, if you have a complicated family, if you have ever illustrated your own family album with faces you weren't related to by blood, but whose eyes and hearts mirrored your own, if you have ever been lifted by a horse or swept off your feet by a dog...you want to read this book. Anna has been teaching people how to connect with their horses for years, and this book is a beautiful story of finding and connecting with your true self.
I'm on my 2nd reading of this memoir, Stable Relation by Anna Blake. I loved it that much! Each tangy chapter is written with wit and insight as the author shares her life's lessons learned while growing up in a dysfunctional farming family, to her successful urban career, and then drawn back to farm life, shared with a delightful cast of critters along the way. It's a must-read for any hard working woman who has experienced life's hard knocks and pulled herself up by her own bootstraps. It's an inspirational story of tenacity, hope, and achievement. Engagingly written with humor and sensitivity that is forged out of experience, determination, and a love for life. It reads like a funny, suspenseful, gritty, and heartwarming novel.
When reading a book, if you're still tasting the salt of your tears as you snort through a laugh, it's a good sign that you've found a book that has captured the true essence of the human experience.
I devoured Blake's riveting memoir in one day (and frankly, i had a lot of other important things that I should have been doing). I began the first chapter as I was on a mountain highway waiting for a rock pile to be cleared off the road. I think it was the first time in history that I was disappointed when traffic began to move. Blake's often witty, sometimes wry and always poignantly honest voice became a friendly companion who I was sorry to see leave when I turned the last page of the book.
You could say that people who love animals will enjoy this book, but that's kind of like saying that people with taste buds will like chocolate ice cream. The reader base for this memoir extends much further than animal lovers or people who live in the country. This book is for anyone who has encountered a fork in their road of life and didn't know which way to go. It's for anyone who has felt that they have lost it all. It's for anyone who realized that they can be their own hero(ine). It's for anyone who has fallen in love and danced that back and forth sway of being the rock of support and accepting the strength when you're weak.
In short, to me, this book was a love letter to the Colorado plains, a hodge podge collection of personable farm animals, the unwavering love of a white knight soulmate, and the process of excavating your true strength and beauty beneath the rubble of a lifetime of experiences.
I could not put this book down. I wanted to read it very slowly: make it last, take in every drop of bravery, fear, love, humor, humility, reality and excellent writing. I had to make a bargain with myself that I would read it again instead. Stable Relation may have to be billed as memoir (it is a memoir), but it reads like a great novel. It is, quite simply, stellar. This is a book for anyone who has ever succeeded, struggled, fallen short, dragged themselves forward, and let themselves be sustained by love where it lives, when loves is not available where it should live. Anna Blake's skill at writing is evident in the spaces between her words and thoughts. The events or feelings she didn't speak about were as telling and eloquent as the events and feelings she put forth. As a reader, I could infer and link things together on my own. She let me form my own ideas and opinions about things. This is key to excellent writing, and shows a deep respect for her readers. While I love horses and all the things that go with them, this book isn't about horses. This is a book that positively bursts with Life in all it's cranky, joyful, zany messiness. Gritty, comical, sorrowful, uplifting, and ultimately inspiring, the only regret you will have is not buying more copies. I've got three people waiting for mine, and I can't let it go! Gifting, here I come.
Through GoodReads I was sent this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review. Stable Relation is the true account of one middle-aged woman, who after a divorce, death of her parents, (who at best provided her with a dysfunctional home life), abandoned her city life after buying a dilapidated farm in Colorado. Describing the would-be horse farm as dilapidated is no exaggeration. For example, “there’s no need to worry “about locking the back porch, because the door was missing.”
Narrated in short chapters, the reader is kept enrapt, as the author single-handedly renovates the house, barn, and land to meet the needs of her horses and assorted rescue animals. Sometimes, this involved bringing a donkey inside the laundry room when a major snow storm left the barn a dangerous place or having to drag a dead llama off of her front porch. It’s important to note that the author also undergoes a complete and inadvertent career change as her life progresses. This is just one of the aspects of the book that had me cheering her on for her perseverance, creativity, and sense of self as she reinvented herself, and yet found peace with her new roles.
Each chapter is either a short segment of life on the farm, obstacles faced head-on, or a description of one of her llamas, horses, dogs, or goats and how each helped carve the author’s view on life. My favorite chapter involved her llama being a ring-bearer at a friend’s wedding. Honestly, I can’t recommend this book enough as I think it will appeal to a wide audience as everyone, at one time or another, dreams of ditching their current life and moving to a completely different situation. Through this book, you can see how your wildest escape dreams can be possible.
I had long awaited the arrival of this book with high expectations, and yet I was still completely blown away by it. If you have ever been lucky enough to owe a debt of gratitude to a good dog or good horse this book will hit you at your core. Anna's absolute gift of observation brings to life the beauty of the Colorado prairie, but it also provides brilliant insight, humor and honesty on the topic of the human species. She doesn't gloss over the pain of loss, but also vividly describes moments of connection and compassion that fill you up with fresh air and hope.
If you pick up this book you will treasure it and want to savor it. I could have easily flown through it in a few hours, but found myself pausing half way through and wanting to just sit with each bit, finishing it off like you might the last pieces of a chocolate bar.
If you like animals you should read this book. If you love animals Anna Blake will speak to your heart. She eloquently expresses exactly how I feel about the animals I share my life with. This book has something for everyone. From enjoying amusing and touching stories about life with animals to touching the soul of a a true animal lover. I cannot say enough good things about this book. I plan on sharing my original copy and buying several more for gifts.
Every once in a while you come across a book that stays with you; “Stable Relation” is one of those rare finds. And if you think, “I’m just not into horses that much, so this book isn’t for me,” you are dead wrong; it’s about so much more: life, hardship, survival, and love. In this skillfully written memoir, Blake deftly draws us in from the start. She interweaves her past and present life in a way that will have you turning pages as quickly as you can. This account of her life, told in kaleidoscopic fashion rather than serially, has a magical way of beguiling the reader. Blake has no problem being critical of others (who deserve it) or being self-deprecating when she thinks she deserves it. Her sly, wry wit is a breath of fresh air, as is her shrewd sarcasm. At the same time, the reader soon comes to understand her feelings and motivations; Blake slowly reveals her past, and you’ll be rooting for her before you know it. It’s impossible not to become immersed in the honest, genuine attachment she has for her animals, something she’s always had trouble doing with people. You’ll see why. Anyone who has ever loved or even liked an animal will become immersed in her story, with its unwavering quest of understanding them, caring for them, and humanely training them. But this book goes much further than that. It’s a journey many of us can relate to; a voyage of the inner self. It touched me deeply.
This book is terrific for people, like me, who like animals better than people.
Early on, I wondered why Blake didn’t give a name to the realtor who helped her buy a farm. Then I realized that no people have names in this book, not even the narrator, if I’m not mistaken. The animals have names though, wonderful names like Spirit and Spam and Thisby and Ernest.
The animals are the central characters. In the early pages, Blake makes a perfectly reasonable life choice to buy a farm to give her two horses and two dogs room to roam. When she’s lonely, she brings home llamas, goats, a donkey, some ducks …
Most powerful to me are the voices of the animals as Blake hears them. To say she loves animals is an understatement; she “gets” them. She may have inherited her mother’s chin, but she’s evolved to have equine eyes.
I don’t know much about horses; I’m a dog person. (I had to look up “Dressage” in Wikipedia). This book has shown me the appeal. Horses live much longer than dogs, and it warms my heart to close the book and know that Spirit still lives.
I loved the book! A must-read for any hard working, animal loving person who has experienced life's hard knocks and pulled themselves up by their own boot straps. A good horse story. A good story of human perseverance. Delightfully written with sensitivity and humor throughout. It left me feeling encouraged. I highly recommend it.
This book really makes you think about overcoming life's speed bumps. The woman, Anna Blake, tells how she bought a broken down farm and takes the reader through tears and laughs as she lets you into her life. A very enjoyable read.
I started by reading Anna Blake's blog. It is the only blog I get in my inbox and I actually read it every week. I think this book is for horse/farm people because it is easy to relate to Anna's ups and downs in her life and on her farm. It is very well written and entertaining!
This book is for you. Anna Blake eloquently describes all the deep love, feelings and lessons that horses teach us and give us. If you love horses, you'll get it. Her descriptions of all her animals is warm and funny and makes you wish you could have met them. I loved this book.
Jane Goodall didn’t have the usual pedigree, the high levels of academic education, to qualify as an animal specialist, but she did have ability to sit back and observe closely. Her work with chimpanzees in Gombe, Africa encouraged many people around the world to look at the animal kingdom in a very different light. As Anna Blake writes in her book, “Stable Relation”, “It’s the human curse of putting intellect above instinct.” Jane showed us the ability to use instinct. Anna, following her idol’s example, explores the power of the animal kingdom even further, taking the instinct to sit back and listen to her animals, but, in Anna’s case, she does so in the simplicity of a small farm on the Colorado prairie.
Experts often talk and write about the ability of animals to communicate with humans and with each other as well as the ability of animals to console and heal. Anna doesn’t need complicated degrees to understand her animals. In fact, going through a difficult mid-life crisis, she contradicts the norm of what most people might do in similar situations. Anna leaves the mad rush of urban living and retreats to a very run-down fixer-upper farm and brings her dogs and horses, only to add cats, llamas and goats to the mix as well. As she writes in “Stable Relation”, she discovers that it’s not her, Anna, who is running the farm and leading the herd, but rather it’s the animals around her, particular her special horse, Spirit, who, as he ages, becomes the Grandfather of not just her menagerie of animals, but her as well. There is magic in her animals, a healing magic. “To ride the quicksilver magic of animals involves shutting up and opening to possibility past our own mental limitations. We have to let them be magic – it’s who they all are, if we get our egos out of the way.”
“Stable Relation” is a memoir, of sorts. It tells Anna’s story, not just as she rescues an old farmstead, not just as she accumulates more animals, not just as she teaches others and shares the therapeutic wholeness of the her animal experience, it’s her story from beginning to present. Anna’s story is one of childhood abuse, neglect, bullying and how one woman could recover from this and a failed marriage as well, by communing with horses and dogs and cats and llamas and goats. “While some might have sought sanctuary in a church, I found a spiritual safe-haven in the barn. I was made welcome in the herd, like the other lost girls before me. To this day, a deep, slow whisper of a nicker, barely audible, is a balm to my soul.” A psychic once told Anna that she would commune with aliens. Perhaps those aliens were the spiritual essence of her animal kingdom, past, present and future. “And in this conditional world, it’s only dogs who believe in free love. Friendships naturally ebb and flow, the circle of life can’t be controlled or altered much, but dog love is eternal. Let there always be dogs.”
This is an inspirational and insightfully consoling story, one that will touch the heart strings of animal lovers everywhere. Thank you for sharing.
Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford, author of the award winning dog story, “To Be a Duke”. Reviewed for Readers' Favorite.
As soon as I see "midlife crisis" in relation to a book, I tend to shy away. I am so happy that I didn't do so with Anna Blake's Stable Relation, because I would have missed out on a truly wonderful read.
Blake writes — with insight, humor, and a fierce honesty that is refreshing to encounter — about her transition from being a Denver goldsmith with a couple of horses she rides in dressage competitions to living on a farm with a menagerie of animals. She shares soul-revealing inner struggles with us alongside of day-to-day get-covered-in-mud-and-other-things struggles, and it is this balance and truth that draws the reader in and keeps her reading to the very end of the book.
Blake's animal companions come alive, as does her connection and care for each of them to varying degrees. She doesn't get woo-woo about this connection; rather, she makes it seem like the most natural thing in the world, something we can all attain if we take the time to slow down and really listen instead of always looking ahead and thinking of what we want to say or do. The number of times I laughed out loud or burst into tears while reading the book is proof positive of Blake's strong writing; and her ability to bring her characters to life allows us to see each scene as it plays out before us.
Stable Relation is more than a midlife crisis story. It is a story of courage, vulnerability, and awakening that strikes the chord of humanity in each of us with perfect pitch.
by Khadijah A. for Story Circle Book Reviews reviewing books by, for, and about women
Jill Ker Conway says that autobiographies allow someone to try on another person's life and learn something from their struggles.
Anna Blake's life in Stable Relations is worth trying on, worth experiencing her struggles.
I loved it. I loved living through Windy, and Spam, and making my throat tighten. But we're reminded that the joy of any form of love overshadows the pain. And how important it is to just breathe. Always breathing.
I'm from Washington State and reading her book felt like reading my parallel universe. What I think I want. She chose to slow her life down and this collection of gorgeous observations are just some of the fruit of that.
Even if I wasn't a horse owner and fellow finatic, this tale would ring true to me. Her descriptions are lovely and her struggles are universal.
Twice she kept me up after midnight on work nights. It was worth it, though. I couldn't put it down.
On the surface, this book may appear to be about one woman's close relationship with the animals in her life, and it is. It may appear to be about the courage it takes for a woman to start almost from scratch to build a self-sufficient farm on an unforgiving prairie, and it is. It may appear to be about the hurts that can happen when any creature is so young that they can never forget and never trust again until someone so gentle, so unhurried and so empathic, heals the hurt and it is.
But more than all those worthy themes, this is an authentic, uniquely powerful, and painfully honest voice telling us the story of how her broken spirit never gives up and she seeks to forgive, seeks to love and seeks to give her soul away in order to make this world a little bit better.
Anna's story deserves a wider audience and they will come.
Stable Relation is a book that went right to my heart. I loved it so much, I recommended it to several friends who all loved it as well and have since gone on to recommend it to others. Don't let the title and the cover fool you--this is not just a book for "horse people". This is a book for anyone who loves animals. Each story about Anna's relationships with the animals on her farm touched my heart, often made me laugh, and gave me a deeper and sweeter appreciation for the animals in my life. Anna is a storyteller of the best kind. She can take topics that might seem tailored for a specific group (like horse people) and make them connect to something that is universal within all of us.
I was astonished to find a kindred spirit in this book. From the very first pages, where I was belting out the songs right along with the author, feeling with her that breakout emancipation of female middle-age 'crisis.' I’m not a people person. And unlike Anna Blake, I’m not an animal person, either, though my mother and son both are. But the validation she finds in horses and geese, I find in plants and gardens, marsh and woods and sea, and the seasons turning. This is a liberating book for any square peg tired of getting hammered into a round hole. Highly recommended.
Very moving story...it took me through crying and laughing and every emotion in between. I would love to read a sequel to this. My only "complaint" about the book was that it jumped about randomly between past-future-and past a lot. Her sweet dog died in one chapter and two chapters later he was alive again. But, even with that I was able to follow it pretty well...and the book was so moving that it was worth the little "inconvenience" of the "jumping around". Thanks for sharing your, and your animal family member's, story with us. God bless!