Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer.  The surname rang a bell, so I requested the ARC from Netgalley – I wasn’t disappointed!

Lara’s famous aunt is Lucinda Green, champion three-day eventer.  Like Lara, I grew up on Lucinda’s books of her exploits with her five horses that won Badminton Horse Trials.  It was a bonus to get the inside view of such a famous horsewoman, although the snippets are more bon mots than insights!

Lara’s tale concentrates on the Mongolian Derby, a 1000 kilometre race over the wild Mongol steppes. And as a memoir, it contributes to my Non-Fiction Reading Adventure!

Quote: 'Where are you going?' shouts a Buddhist monk at a horse and rider in an oft-told story. 'Ask my horse,' shouts the rider. ROUGH MAGIC by Lara Prior-Palmer #adventure #endurancerace #Netgalley #RoughMagic Share on X

Rough Magic: Riding the world’s wildest horse race

by Lara Prior-Palmer

Rough MagicThe Mongol Derby is the world’s toughest horse race. A feat of endurance across the vast Mongolian plains once traversed by the people of Genghis Khan, competitors ride 25 horses across a distance of 1000km. Many riders don’t make it to the finish line.

In 2013 Lara Prior-Palmer – nineteen, underprepared but seeking the great unknown – decided to enter the race. Driven by her own restlessness, stubbornness, and a lifelong love of horses, she raced for seven days through extreme heat and terrifying storms, catching a few hours of sleep where she could at the homes of nomadic families. Battling bouts of illness and dehydration, exhaustion and bruising falls, she found she had nothing to lose, and tore through the field with her motley crew of horses. In one of the Derby’s most unexpected results, she became the youngest-ever champion and the first woman to win the race.

A tale of adventure, fortitude and poetry, Rough Magic is the extraordinary story of one young woman’s encounter with oblivion, and herself. [goodreads]

Note that some editions call it ‘the world’s loneliest horse race’, and I kept using ‘toughest’ in my notes.

My Review

Given Ms Prior-Palmer’s self-deprecation of her performance in school, you don’t really expect such a wonderfully descriptive, and achingly evocative narrative.  Lara enters the world’s toughest horse race on a whim, as she seems to do most things in her short life. Her fellow competitors have been preparing for a year, she barely has a month. She’s not even a born horsewoman, although she has ridden a bit, at weekends when down at the cottage they have near her famous aunt (who’s away half the time). So preparation to ride 8 hours a day for two weeks is not founded on a secure base.

She combines the unfolding of the race itself with flashbacks of her past, and anecdotes about other people, or writings from Mongolians authors and poets.  It’s a charming combination, and it works.

Oh, how it works! I can’t recall any other book where I’ve highlighted so many gorgeous turns of phrase.

For example:

I can’t rid myself of the sensation I’m about to fall off the world, as you might fall off the back of a treadmill

This feels to me like some place across the river, across the boundary—not the middle of nowhere but the centre of old dreams and unthought-of ideas

I’m an anyone, just like everyone, living out my days in the nooks and crannies between the labels, appearing as someone different to each person I know

The light has spread her pre-dark colours, those shades of dusk that match the temperature of dreams

She has a talent for bringing landscape to life on the page like no other I’ve read. I think the secret of her success is: she lives in the moment. She goes with the flow.  She understands the flow.  Lara is aware of her surroundings, both in the race and at home, whatever forward or back motion it brings. It seems to suit the half-tamed Mongolian horses (about the size of Shetland ponies), and their owners, who recognise her ability to blend with them.  We are treated to pictures of the rest of the competitors; the most hardened, experienced and focused of them is probably least in tune with either their surroundings or the horses.

Even the food is interesting. I’m glad I didn’t have to eat it.

add to your goodreads listMagical, brilliant, evocative. It’s compulsive reading for travellers, lovers of wild spaces, and horse-lovers. Maybe not for gourmands.

And I particularly like the inclusion of some recommended reading by Mongolian authors.

I wonder if the hardcover edition has photos?

ROUGH MAGIC by Lara Prior-Palmer. 'Magical, brilliant, evocative. I've never highlighted so many wondrous passages before' #mongolia #horses #travel #endurance #netgalley #RoughMagic Share on X

Book Review | Rough Magic – a horse tale
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2 thoughts on “Book Review | Rough Magic – a horse tale

  • 8 June, 2019 at 9:42 pm

    When I saw the word ‘horse’ I was interested. When I saw the surname, I wondered what relation – not Lucinda’s daughter, Lissa as I’ve met her a few times. Your great review sold me – thank you. This has to be a Must Must Read, as an ex-equestrian journalist and as I know her aunt to chat to. I entered the US Goodreads Giveaway that ends today – so this post is well-timed.

  • 7 July, 2019 at 1:33 am

    Your review is fantastic! Love the comment about the food–my son did have to eat some of that when he was there in 2015, and like Lara survived the experience.

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