Set more than 6,000 years ago, She Who Rides Horses: A Saga of the Ancient Steppe (Book One) begins the story of Naya, the first person to ride a horse.
Daughter of a clan chief, bolder than other girls but shunned by the boys because of her unusual appearance, Naya wanders alone through the vast grasslands where her people herd cattle and hunt wild horses for their meat. But Naya dreams of creating a different kind of relationship with the magnificent creatures.
One day, she discovers a filly with a chestnut coat as uncommon as her own head of red hair. With time running out before she is called to assume the responsibilities of adulthood, Naya embarks on a quest to gallop with the red filly across the boundless steppe.
Unwittingly, she sets in motion forces and events that will change forever the future of humans and horses alike.
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Excerpt from Chapter One
It was long after noon the next day before Naya was at last able to slip away. This time she was better prepared. In a deer skin bag slung over one shoulder she carried flint tools and kindling for making fire, a flint knife and enough food to last a day, as well as a full water skin. Over the other shoulder was coiled a long length of braided rawhide, strong enough, she hoped, to restrain the filly…
She found the little band at dusk, when the sun’s afterglow cast blackening shadows across the landscape. She had just gained the top of a small rise and could see for some distance, despite the gathering darkness. There they were – blurred shapes silhouetted against the next range of hills. Succeeding ridges gained in height, verdant meadows giving way to forested slopes, behind which the sun had disappeared. The horses had led her to the edge of the grasslands…
Naya shivered in the rapidly cooling air. The horses appeared to have stopped for the evening. The mares’ heads hung low, muzzles almost touching the ground in deep relaxation and she could make out several darker shapes that must be the foals, lying in the grass at their feet. Only the stallion stood alert, scenting the air for danger before dropping his head to grab a few mouthfuls of grass. Moments later, his head lifted again, keen eyes scanning the landscape.
Naya settled herself in the deep grass and rested her folded arms atop her knees. From her vantage on the rise downwind from the small band, she could sit and keep watch without arousing suspicion… Eventually, cheek resting on her forearms, she closed her eyes, and slept…
At some point later in the night, she thought she awoke. Lifting her head from her folded arms, she checked the herd. They were as they’d been before, dozing in the lee of the hillside across from the rise where she sat. Even the stallion had relaxed his vigilance and stood with his head lowered. The full moon now rode high in the sky, bright enough to cast faint shadows. As Naya’s eyes adjusted to the night, the moon’s light illuminated a faint track leading down the rise at an angle from where the horses rested. She hadn’t noticed it before.
Rising, Naya moved as silently as she could, following the path in the moonlight. Soon, she found herself ascending another small rise, then descending, then rising again, until at last she stood at the edge of a ravine. Below, she could see a stream, shining in the moonlight, gurgling quietly as it flowed over its stony bed… Slipping and sliding, Naya made her way down the steep slope, scratching her skin against sharp rocks and thorny underbrush. At last she reached the bottom and looked around her. Along the ravine’s floor, smooth white stones marked the water course… Drawn onward, Naya followed the path upstream into a grove of trees.
There, a wondrous sight met her eyes. Oaks and birches encircled a small pool of water, fed by an underground spring. Reflected in the pool’s clear, still surface was the round orb of the moon, casting its light from high above the rocky cliffs which formed the pool’s backdrop. Beside the pool stood the red filly, burnished coat softly aglow. Naya froze, rooted as if she were one of the trees, and stared. The filly, startled by the girl’s approach, stared back. Neither moved. Eventually, Naya remembered to breathe. In the next moment, she realized that she had left her rope, along with everything else she’d brought with her, back on the rise. Still, she and the filly stood motionless, looking at one another.
In that moment, Naya’s senses underwent an almost imperceptible shift; the moonlight became just a little brighter, the stream’s murmur became just a little louder, the slight breeze rustling the leaves in the trees became just a little fresher against her skin. In the next moment, she seemed to feel the filly’s thoughts.
I will grant your heart’s desire, but only if you are able to grant mine. The musical voice resonated within the core of Naya’s being, even though no sound other than the splash of flowing water and whisper of the wind in the trees disturbed the silence of the grove. What is your heart’s desire?
Awestruck, Naya could only gaze back at the young horse, who now regarded her with luminous dark eyes in which fear had given way to curiosity. Finally, she found her own voice. “I wish to be with you,” she said simply. “I wish to touch your coat.” Then, from deep inside, another longing welled up, a yearning so audacious she almost couldn’t bring herself to speak. Hesitatingly, she uttered the words. “I wish,” she said, “to ride upon your back.”
Ah, the red filly seemed to reply, if this is indeed your deepest desire, then you must see with the eyes of your heart and create ties without the use of a rope. And when you have succeeded in granting my heart’s desire, then shall yours be granted also.
Before Naya could begin to ponder the meaning of the words, the filly brushed past her in a chestnut blur and was gone, disappearing through the trees toward the mouth of the ravine. Gazing after her, Naya shook her head, as if to clear her senses. Water still flowed in the creek and a breeze still rustled among the leaves. The moon still cast its dim glow – but the moment of utter clarity had vanished, just as suddenly as the young horse. Shaking herself again, as if awakening from a dream, Naya retraced her steps to the mouth of the ravine. There was no sign of the red filly…
I really enjoyed this story; I was telling my daughter about it and can’t wait to either read it with her or have her read it on her own. I felt the beginning was a slow start; Naya stands out in her clan, she has blue eyes and red hair, she’s different from everyone and they are not shy of letting her know this. Naya goes on an etmn-itajo, a soul journey, where she connects with this red filly. She wants to really connect with these animals and tame them, something her clan has not even thought of doing. I was honestly shocked when she didn’t get the support from her clan, her journey had to be kept a secret because only their priests are allowed this and even her father, the chief, believed something like this was impossible. Naya has the support of her mother and grandmother; I wish to have seen more of her grandmother because I felt a closeness with her and Naya and was disappointed that after Naya got injured, we don’t see her again.
After this incident I felt the story change a little and things start to pick up. It was hard for me to put the book down during their struggles of winter. Here, we are introduced to new characters, from a different tribe, who I fell in love with. I really liked that there was a small connection with Sata and Oyuun, she grew up with his wife and he knows the clan where she came from. There were talks of him taking her to visit them and after this ending, I really hope she goes. Just like him, my heart was hurting. Honestly, I am upset that I have many unanswered questions, but I hope they’re answered in the next book.
There’s a little romance in the book leaving me to believe it would be great for middle schoolers (a great book to read in school) and up. There’s not much adventure but you feel the passion Naya has and you learn that not everything will always work out how you expect. It’s hard for me to not talk about the ending of this story without giving away a lot of information. I guess I will just say that I really wasn’t expecting this, and my emotions were rolling. I have given this book four stars.
*Interview with Sarah V. Barnes*
Sarah V. Barnes, Ph.D. is both an historian and a horsewoman. When Sarah is not writing stories, she practices and teaches riding as a meditative art. She also offers equine-facilitated coaching and wellness workshops.
Sarah holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and spent many years as a college professor before turning full-time to riding and writing. She has two grown daughters and lives with her husband, her dogs and her horses near Boulder, CO.
connect with the author: website ~ facebook ~ goodreads
What genre do you write and why?
Historical fiction. I’ve always loved stories set in the past – they are what drew me to becoming an academic historian in the first place. Unfortunately, as a professional writing papers and articles with endless footnotes for an audience composed of my academic colleagues, I found the stories themselves often got lost. Plus, there is always a gap between what actually happened in the past and what we can know about what happened based on the surviving evidence. Often the really interesting information, about individuals’ experiences and motivations, can’t be recovered. That’s where the novelist’s imagination comes in. I’m finding writing creative historical fiction to be much more fun than producing academic articles, even as I strive to be as historically accurate as possible.
What is the last great book that you read?
I tend to read an eclectic assortment of non-fiction related to my story. For example, I just finished a newly-published academic tome entitled Matriarchy Societies of the Past and the Rise of Patriarchy, by Heide Goettner-Abendroth. Also a book by the psychologist Steve Taylor called The Fall: The Insanity of the Ego in Human History and the Dawning of a New Era, and an older one entitled Mysteries of the Dark Moon: The Healing Power of the Dark Goddess, by Demetra George. While I try to keep what I learn from these books way in the background of my story, reading them helps me to understand my characters’ cosmology – their understanding of themselves and the world around them – which in turn allows me to inhabit their minds and hearts.
Where do you write?
After a lot of moving around with my husband and children throughout my adult life, about seven years ago we settled on a beautiful piece of land in the foothills outside of Boulder, CO. The house sits on several acres of ponderosa pine and rocky outcroppings. I have a walk-out office in the basement, filled with books as well as stones and shells and feathers. A comfortable reading chair sits in one corner, with the dogs’ beds on either side, and my desk and computer are across the room. It’s my sanctuary.
Do you ever get writer’s block? What helps you overcome it?
Generally not – mostly because I don’t really see the story as originating with me. I’m just the conduit – the storyteller. So if I’m ever stuck, it’s usually because I’m not allowing the story to come through – I’m overthinking. If I just write what comes, I find the story takes care of itself. I do have a responsibility to do the best job that I can as a storyteller, so I spend a lot of time rewriting and editing. But the story itself seems to have an existence independent of me – all I have to do is to let it come through.
What is your next project?
I’m nearing the end of the writing/editing process for the second book in the She Who Rides Horses series. There will be a third book, for sure, and possibly more, depending on how the story unfolds. At some point the novels will be released as an audiobook and ultimately, I’d love to see the story made into a film or limited series.
Book Title: She Who Rides Horses: A Saga of the Ancient Steppe (Book One)
Author: Sarah V. Barnes
Category: Adult Fiction (18+), 267 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Lilith House Press
Release date: March 2022
Content Rating: PG – contains two kissing scenes and the death of an animal.
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Ends May 26, 2023
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