Boot-pulling mud on ground that seldom freezes and frequent all-day drizzles that hardly ever turn to snow characterize winter in Georgia. It’s not that the cold is all that bad. It’s the dismal conditions that the relative warmth produces that make this time of year perfect for hibernating indoors.
Mid-winter is a time when I like to make a reading recommendation because one of my main interests revolves around the outdoors, which for a few months of the year is not always a welcoming place in Georgia. Finding time to curl up inside under a blanket after wading through the muck to feed impatient animals provides a great opportunity to take a break and read about one of my all-time loves. I am, of course, talking about riding horses. The following is a review of an old favorite of mine by the prolific author Rita Mae Brown. I discovered this lovely story as a young adult, and every time I’ve reread it, I’ve been just as captivated as I was then. I think my nonriding readers will find plenty of entertainment, too, and its Southern setting will be particularly captivating for many. So, without further ado …
If you traveled back in time 300 years, what’s the one thing you would take with you from this life? For Pryor Chesterfield Deyhl, it was her fine bay Thoroughbred gelding.
Rita Mae Brown’s “Riding Shotgun” is just one in a cache of foxhunting novels in which the author guides us through the rich tradition of hunters in the verdant Virginia fields. Published in 1996, this particular novel is notable because of the attention to detail in its juxtaposing descriptions of riding in this time period and that of 1699. The turn of the 17th century is where the protagonist, Pryor, or “Cig,” as her present-day acquaintances call her, ends up when she and her good hunter, “Full Throttle” get lost in a strange fog after being separated from their local hunt club one October morning in 1995.
Cig, though desperate to make it back to her modern-day life, decides to make the best of a bewildering situation. It turns out she’s stepped into the shoes of an ancestor who conveniently shares her name. She soon finds herself embroiled in the daily challenges of life in early America. She confronts issues that faced women of that time period — some will be foreign to readers, and some will be unnervingly familiar.
Brown, a horsewoman herself, has a knack for mixing in horsey scenes and details at just the right time. Her intimate knowledge of clothing and tack are evident in her detailed descriptions of hunt preparations and proceedings. She sends the reader on several rollicking tours of Virginia’s hunt country, making the layers of tradition in foxhunting a satisfying tie between the 20th and 17th centuries. You’ll lose yourself in Cig’s tears across yellowing corn fields, over stone walls and through in-and-out combinations, always in hot pursuit of baying hounds.
Riders will be pleased with Brown’s attention to detail as she contrasts the forward jumping seat of today with the behind-the-motion technique of yesteryear. Though Cig continues to wear breeches and ride astride when she travels back in time, Brown doesn’t forget to remind us that women of that time period typically wore skirted habits and rode sidesaddle.
The hunt scenes alone are reason enough to curl up with “Riding Shotgun” and a cup of cocoa on a soggy winter afternoon, but Brown throws in a few nice, round plot twists that keep the pages turning, as well: love triangles in both centuries and unrest between colonists and Native Americans.
So, as you wait out the next few months, whether you need to spend significant time outside like I do, or you need to break the monotony of being indoors more than you’re used to, this is a story I think will transport you temporarily. Happy reading, and stay warm!