Sunday, April 10, 2022

"Ride the Rising Wind" by Barbara Kinscote

Last week I wrote a book review about the epic cross-country horseback trip that Annie Wilkins took from Maine to California. Barbara Kingscote had a similar experience riding across Canada from Quebec to British Columbia in 1949-50. Here's a reprint of my review of Ride the Rising Wind that was posted on Margy Meanders in 2015.


I follow several Powell River friends online. One day there was mention of a book about horses, one of my favourite subjects. As a young girl in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I dreamed of having a horse of my own. My dad helped by taking me riding at a nearby stable on the Los Angeles River, which at the time was not the cement channel it is today. I always rode Flash, but I think his name was more of a joke than a description of his fleet footedness.

When we came to Powell River, I saw a brochure offering trail rides at Tanglewood Farms. I’ve never completed my desire to check it out, but when I learned that the owner Phoebe Kingscote’s mother Barbara wrote a memoir of a riding adventure from the early 1950s, I had to get it.

Barbara Kingscote grew up in Quebec in the 1940s. She too had a love of horses. Working on a small subsistence farm, she gained the experienced needed to apply for veterinary college. In 1949 when she was twenty years old, the owners of the farm moved to the West Coast, but couldn’t take their horse Zazy. The solution? Barbara would ride the black mare all the way from Montreal to their new home in Lytton, British Columbia. But just prior to departure, Charlie, the owner, gave the mare to Barbara to be her own.

Ride the Rising Wind: One Woman’s Journey Across Canada (NeWest Press, 2006) is Barbara and Zazy’s story of the massive undertaking spanning sixteen months and over four thousand miles. Barbara left with minimal supplies lashed to Zazy’s saddle and $100 in her pocket. She stopped along the way at logging camps, farms and towns to intercept mail, buy meager supplies for herself and her horse, and enjoy the company of generous Canadians all along the way.

When she wasn’t offered a loft or bedroom, the intrepid pair slept under the stars or a tarp in pouring rain. Their winter was spent working in the cookhouse at a logging camp. That was a story in itself. But come spring, the two were back on the road.

To take such a journey today seems impossible. The roads are more like freeways, the traffic even more congested. Towns and logging camps along the way no longer depend on horses, so support would be minimal. That’s one reason Barbara’s story is so compelling. Horse people dream of such adventures and opportunities. The closest I ever came was riding in the Chilko Lake area helping a dude ranch hand with the horses.

After learning about the book, I found a used copy online. And then, strangely enough, I bumped into another at the Powell River thrift store. I always stop in every week or so to see what Canadian and regional treasures I can find to add to my reading shelf. -- Margy

Sunday, April 03, 2022

"The Ride of Her Life" by Elizabeth Letts

Margy (12) and Misty in 1960

Ever since I can remember I've loved horses. Mom told me about Grampa's plow horse on the Compton farm in the early 1900s.

My parents worked so Betty was my sitter. She grew up in a French chateau where they raised thoroughbreds. She told me stories about life before WWII and gave me jodhpurs she brought when she came to America.

Margy (15), Dad, Misty and baby Burke in 1963
Dad took me riding at a Los Angeles River stable. "My horse" was always Flash. I remember a movie with my little legs barely reaching over Flash's back.

I begged for a horse. My parents relented by junior high and Misty came into my life. By then the river was a cement channel, but I didn't care. My dream had come true.

This brings me to this month's review. As a kid, I read every horse book in the library. I still enjoy reading them.  I recently discovered The Ride of Her Life, the biography of Annie Wilkins by Elizabeth Letts.

Elizabeth Letts grew up in Southern California, like I did. She began riding at a young age, like I did. But she went the English route while I was a Western rider. Her love of horses has led her to write several well researched books.

The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse and their Last-Chance Journey Across America (Ballantine Books, 2021) is the factual account of the nearly two year journey of 63-year old Annie Wilkins, her horse Tarzan and dog Depeche Toi across America in the early 1950s.

Research included interviews, letters written by Annie to friends she made along the way, newspaper articles and television coverage.

Annie, affectionately called Widow Wilkins, grew up poor on a homestead near Minot, Maine. In her sixties, she had little savings and owed back taxes on the farm. After a hospital stay for severe pneumonia, the prognosis was only a few more years to live. Rather than giving in, she got to work and prepared for the journey of her life to see the Pacific Ocean. 

Credit: The Ride of Her Life page 278

As Annie travels, the author tells the story of America in the early 1950s. It was a time when towns were growing into cities, and roads were becoming highways. The emergence of television helped to broadcast Annie's story and built interest in her adventure.

Annie, Tarzan and Depeche Toi were successful in their quest thanks to many individuals and towns who offered lodging, meals and encouragement along the way. Arriving in Hollywood she was invited to appear on Art Linkletter's "People are Funny" TV show.

I highly recommend The Ride of Her Life to anyone who loves reading about horses, strong women, adventure and historical times. It's available in print, ebook and audio versions at Amazon and many other online booksellers.

The new Misty, Margy, Wayne and Daddy in Pomona in 1985

Before I say goodbye, here are my last two horses. During college there wasn't enough time for riding. That and my teaching career created a twenty year gap until a new Misty came into my life. (Can you guess my favourite childhood horse book?) Wayne surprised me one Christmas morning when we lived in Pomona, a childhood dream come true. And Dad was still with us to share my excitement.

Cowboy, my last horse in Pomona before moving to Powell River

After Misty came the last horse in my life, Cowboy Bich. Life moves on, but my love of horses never will. -- Margy

Visit the monthly Book Review Club for teen/young adult and adult fiction over at Barrie Summy's blog.

Also shared with Your the Star at Stone Cottage Adventures.

Thanks for visiting my post this week. I'm linking up with Saturday's Critters. Check them out for more great animal pictures.