Courtney Maum has loved horses her entire life, from the first time she sat on a wooden rocking horse. Although she took a break from riding, she’s back in the saddle now, and has become an accomplished polo player. Courtney is also a writer, and recently her memoir, “The Year of the Horses,” was released and has garnered national attention, including being chosen by “The Today Show” as a top read for mental health awareness. Her book has also been featured by “Good Morning America,” “Vanity Fair,” The Wall Street Journal and many more.
“My memoir is about how horses helped me along the path to mental wellness, so it means an extraordinary amount that so many outlets would recognize the larger message in my book about prioritizing joy as an adult,” Courtney said. “While it’s always an honor—and certainly helps sales—to get recognition in high-profile places, what has been the most incredible thing so far is hearing from readers who are inspired, after reading the book, to either get back in the saddle after a long break away, try horseback riding for the first time or pick up a passion that they abandoned in their youth. A 60-year-old reader sent me a snapshot of her new YWCA card—she said she loved swimming laps as a teenager and despite the fact she ‘didn’t feel perfect in a bathing suit’ she was getting back into the pool. I cheered!”
In addition to writing and riding, Courtney is a writing coach. She lives in Litchfield County, Connecticut, with her husband, daughter and rescue cat. She also rescued an ex-racehorse, a feisty off-the-track Thoroughbred mare.
How long have you been part of the horse world?
Nearly seven years now as an adult. I rode as a child until I was around 9 or 10 years old, and then my parents divorced and my family life got complicated, so I stopped riding. There was a span of 30 years where I didn’t do anything with horses—didn’t interact with them or ride or even write about them. I went out of my way to avoid them because I was afraid that if I dipped my toes back in, horses would overpower everything else in my life. I was quite obsessive about them when I was a little girl.
How did writing your book change you?
This is my fifth book, and I would say with every publication I get to know myself better—and not always the good parts. I think with this book, which is my first memoir, the change is still in process because the book’s only recently out, and family members and friends and colleagues of mine are still reading it and learning things about me—my childhood, my adult life, the way I think—that they probably didn’t know before. There will be some material that makes them uncomfortable, or proud of me, or both. I think I’ll be having conversations with my loved ones about the ways they experienced this book for years to come.
What’s your favorite thing about being a writer?
The fact that I can set my own schedule, and that it’s my job to stay open-eyed and appreciative (and sometimes critical) about this wide and wonderful world.
What are you doing in the horse world now?
I rescued an ex-racehorse this past winter, a feisty, red OTTB mare named Abuelita who keeps me tremendously busy. She’s a senior mare with decades behind her of neglect, overwork and abuse. I’m not sure when—if ever—she was given a reason to trust humans. She’s only recently showing signs that she remembers how to be a horse—starting to feel safe enough to roll or be playful around water and enjoy her zoomies. For the first few months I had her, she didn’t even smell like a horse. She was always on her guard, always waiting for the worst-case scenario, always ready to kick or bite to defend her food because she came from such food scarcity. For our first three months together, I just focused on getting weight back on her, then we moved on to groundwork, which is where most of my efforts will remain because she arrived with no manners whatsoever, no sense of personal space, no respect for the lead rope, didn’t know how to lunge. We have our work cut out together, but I just adore her. She’s teaching me so much. The Guardian ran a nice piece on her recently called “I saved an abused, broken horse. Or did she save me?”.
I feel exceptionally honored that the United States Polo Association (USPA) has run two pieces about my book—one was a long feature interview called “How Horses Heal.” The fact that the governing body of the sport of polo in America would take the time to recognize a low-goal player like myself and to elevate my insistence that polo can be a more inclusive and accessible sport than we’re given to think it is means so much to me. Confronting my fears on horseback was one of the ways I really learned to heal myself and rise out of depression. I think all riders understand the positive and transformational benefits of fear. Even if you’re only working on the ground with horses, you’re making, in some way, a compromise with fear; you’re acknowledging that something bad or painful can happen at any moment but you will keep on moving through your day—your life—regardless. This is an essential life skill, one that I think horse people have in spades.
What are your goals in the writing world?
To just keep on writing! We authors never know how our books will connect with readers, so with every book, I hope that I write it well enough that my editors and readers give me the opportunity to publish something again. In my side job as a writing coach (I have a bestselling guidebook to the industry called “Before and After the Book Deal”), I work hard to help people understand how to focus on perfecting their craft, all the while being realistic and educated about the changing realities of the American marketplace, and what is expected of them in it.
What advice would you give to others considering returning to riding after years of not riding?
Run, don’t walk, to schedule that first lesson! If budget constraints are holding you back, in my personal experience (which you’ll see in my book), horse people are quite open to bartering. I’ve exchanged physical labor against lessons, of course, but I’ve also written press releases, done social media management or helped with visa paperwork. It’s important to understand your skill set and what you have to offer. Maybe you’re not a good enough rider to help exercise the horses, but perhaps you have another expertise that you can trade against ring time. And remember: Just because you were a show jumper as a child doesn’t mean that you have to get back to that again. There are so many beautiful ways to participate in the horse world, and not all of them need to involve oxers or even saddles.
That I’m fortunate enough to be in charge of it! Thank goodness I’m my own boss because I can’t think of any bosses out there that would let me ride each afternoon. I feel like I have a very complete life and I’m so grateful for that. My husband and daughter mean the world to me, as does my rescue horse and rescue cat. I love our little country town and our artistic friends. Now, if I could only convince some of them to ride!
Best-kept secret about what you do?
I work as a corporate namer! For the last 15 years, I’ve worked as a consultant for various agencies naming products and brands. For a three-year run, I named almost all the makeup products and shade names for M.A.C. cosmetics. Something else that is interesting (at least for my therapist) is that I claim my favorite horse type to be a bombproof gelding Quarter Horse—but I rescued a hot chestnut OTTB mare!
For more information, visit www.courtneymaum.com
Photos by Kenzie Fields, www.kenzieodegaardfields.com