Friday Favourite - THE HORSE DANCER by Jojo Moyes

The Horse Danceris an adult novel that should appeal to all ages with its interwoven adult and teenage viewpoints. It’s part romance, part horse story, and part adventure, taking its characters on a journey of both heart and hoof, from the back streets of London to a chateau deep in the French countryside.

The story revolves around a beautiful horse called “Boo”, one of the Selle Francais breed used in an exclusive French riding school called the Cadre Noir (rather like the Spanish riding school of Vienna, only the horses are not all white). The horse belongs to Sarah, granddaughter of dedicated horseman Henri Lachapelle, who used to ride for the Cadre Noir but left the horses behind to marry an English girl and move to London. There, his life collapsed. His beloved wife died, and their daughter vanished from their lives shortly after giving birth, leaving Henri in charge of the baby girl.

Sarah lives with her grandfather in a tiny flat in the east end and keeps Boo under a railway arch in a seedy yard run by good-hearted maverick Cowboy John. She plays truant from school, but is happy training her horse to perform the strict disciplines of the Cadre Noir… the “airs above the ground” and riding him around the parks and back streets of London. Then disaster strikes. Her grandfather Henri has a stroke and is taken into hospital, leaving Sarah to fend for herself. Soon the flat is burgled, and a shady character called Maltese Sal takes over the yard, which he uses as a base for his trotters - running illegal races on the dual carriageway and gambling on the results. Maltese Sal has had his eye on Sarah for some time, and when she is unable to pay for her horse’s keep he attempts to take payment from her in other ways. Sarah tells him to get lost, but she will beg, borrow and steal to keep her beloved horse Boo until her grandfather is well enough to come home.

Enter Natasha MacAuley, a lawyer who specializes in helping vulnerable youngsters, who catches Sarah shoplifting for food. Seeing that the girl needs help, she takes Sarah into her own house. This is complicated by the fact Natasha is in the middle of divorcing her husband Mac - a charismatic photographer with a chain of admiring girlfriends - in favour of a partner at her law firm who dangles promotion before her like a carrot on a stick. But for Sarah’s sake, Natasha and Mac get back together, little knowing the girl and the horse are about to change their lives forever.

At first Sarah keeps Boo a secret from her foster family. But when Maltese Sal illegally sells the horse to pay off her debts and runs him in a trotting race on the flyover, she rescues Boo and sets off on a daring ride from London to the Cadre Noir in France with only Natasha’s stolen credit card and the clothes on her back. Natasha and Mac have no choice but to follow her across the Channel, and so begins a wild chase which forces all the characters to re-evaluate their lives and decide what really matters to them.

The book’s strapline “You have to be lost before you can be found.” spoke powerfully to me, and several times I found myself in tears before the end. Jojo Moyes’ writing is both beautiful and emotional so you really feel for the characters when they go through bad times, but the ending is hopeful and uplifting for all. The good news is that Jojo Moyes, who keeps horses herself, has written several other novels as well, so if you enjoy this one then you have much more to enjoy.

(Muse: And to prove what a small world you humans live in, Jojo Moyes is the stepdaughter of Brian Sanders, who illustrated the map at the front of “I am the Great Horse” and was responsible for sending Katherine to seek out this wonderful novel. Much unicorn glitter to both of them!)