Book review: ‘The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last Chance Journey Across America’

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Cover of the book 'The Ride of Her Life'
A Maine farmer, running out of luck and time, sets out to see the Pacific Ocean with her two best friends: her horse and terrier.
By Sally Rosenthal

The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America by Elizabeth Letts. Ballantine Books, 2021, hardcover, 336 pages, $28.

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I am surprising myself by reviewing The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America, Elizabeth Letts’ bestseller about Annie Wilkins and her much-celebrated trip across the United States in the 1950s with only her horse and terrier as traveling companions. Why? For a start, I was never one of those little girls who dreamed of having a pony.

In truth, as an adult of small stature, I am somewhat afraid of such large animals. More important, however, is the fact that I prefer to give review space to small press books, rather than the bestsellers that will fly off shelves whether or not I review them.

That said, Letts’ book had been out for a few months when a trusted friend recommended it to me. I was reluctant to read it but, under pressure from my friend, I caved in and started on my journey with Annie and her beloved companions.

A woman, her horse and terrier, and a plan to see the Pacific

Annie is destitute following the loss of her Maine farm and she’s given only two years to live by a physician who diagnosed her with lung disease, Left with only a few possessions and her horse and dog, she sets out to fulfill a lifelong wish to see the Pacific Ocean.

The story takes place in the early 1950s, when America was still mainly comprised of cities, small towns and vast country. The America that Annie traveled was populated for the most part by people who were willing to lend a hand or open their homes to a stranger in need of a meal or a stable overnight for her horse.

What Annie did not realize was that her escapade was taking place as the fabric and mentality of the nation was changing. The USA had become a country of cities and suburbs populated by residents who locked their doors at night, feared strangers and were more interested in pursuing the American dream than in reaching out to people like her.

Fortunately, this change was slow in coming as Annie and her two friends journeyed on. Her trip soon catches the attention of the national press, and she is welcomed along the way.

If this book was merely a historical account of one woman’s quest in a changing social context, it would have been only mildly interesting. What moved me to recommend it to Best Friends readers, though, is the message at its core: the absolute love and trust among Annie, her horse and her terrier. She believed her animals were her equals and treated them as such. Their welfare and comfort were paramount to Annie during their years of travel, as was that of a second horse given to her.

When they reach the Pacific Ocean, the national media finds a happy ending story to counterbalance the news of the cold war and McCarthyism. As all animal lovers know, however, the love between species transcends time and place. I am glad I listened to my friend’s recommendation about The Ride of Her Life. But I still don’t want a pony.

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Photo courtesy of Ballantine Books