This story, set in Oregon in the winter of 1917-1918 just as America is entering World War One, is about nineteen-year-old Martha Lessen and her journey to find her place in the world. As she completes her daily circle ride, going from ranch to ranch to train her clients’ horses, we watch Martha grow. Every time Martha stops at a ranch to change mounts she observes and interacts with the people living there, and their lives present choices that give shape to her life.
The spinster Woodruff sisters who carry on ranching after their father’s death and ride cross-saddle along with their cowboys but “never had gone so far against convention as to wear trousers or overalls (Glass, 2007, p. 162) show Martha that there is some room in the community for unconventionality, while the community’s reaction to the Thiedes and their too-German surname show Martha that there may not be enough room for understanding. Martha makes her own choice, though, when in response to being told the Thiedes are German simply says, “‘They’re Americans’” (Glass, 2007, p. 133).
The Hearts of Horses delivers some of the most poignant scenes along with some of the most real characters I’ve encountered in a while. Gloss paints a profoundly authentic and intimate portrait of life unmarred by western glamor or the stereotypical perils facing a single female. I highly recommend this book.