[ Back to Historical Fiction ]  ->  [ Back to Bea and the New Deal Horse ]

Horsewomen and their Horses

One of the greatest joys of being an author is constantly learning new things—even on topics I thought I knew fairly well. This was decidedly the case while researching Bea’s world, its 1930s timeframe, and its horse community.

Mrs. Scott, for instance—like most multifaceted and compelling characters are—is an amalgamation, a mixing together of divergent elements of people I researched to create a new, historically plausible and authentic persona. She is born of 1930s Virginia horsewomen I was delighted to learn more about. They included:

Isabel Dodge Sloane, who in 1934 became the first woman to lead the American owners’ list when one of her colts won the Kentucky Derby and another the Preakness.

Miss Charlotte Noland, a charismatic foxhunter, who believed young women should be both fit and well-educated, and started the renowned girls-only Foxcroft School.

A Middleburg widow named Dorothy Nalle Lee, who ran a 70-stall stable and a horse-breaking and trading operation, known for having one of the “keenest eyes for horses in the area.”

“Strong, independent businesswomen,” as one of the essayists in the wonderful Horse Girls aptly describes seasoned trainers, “who demonstrate affection by raising jumps and taking away your stirrups. . . unsentimental about horses but devoted to them for life,” women exuding instinctive, second-nature “old-school feminism.”

The Evelyn Corker character is based on the bodacious Elizabeth Whitney Person Lunn Tippett, champion hunter show rider who made it to The National Horse Show on several horses. She was also an astute owner/breeder of racehorses. In 1939, Time magazine described her as a “spirited, devil-may-care rider. . . her drawing-room, gum-chewing, social-worker hairdo, haphazard clothes aped by many lesser socialites” . . . her horses “the envy of the show ring.” A Philadelphia native and model for Pond’s face cream, her first groom, “Jock” Whitney, did indeed purchase her a 2,200-acre, million-dollar estate as his wedding present in 1930. He was one of the many industrialists, railroad tycoons, and financiers from New York and New England, who discovered the rolling, lush landscape of Virginia’s Fauquier and Loudoun counties, bought up and refurbished old estates that had fallen on hard times, adding a monied patina to the area’s foxhunting tradition. One of those stark dichotomies between the haves and have-nots that existed during the Great Depression.

There are literally a hundred-plus books about horses, but I’ll recommend some of my favorites:

Black Beauty

National Velvet

War Horse

Jane Smiley’s Horses of Oak Valley Ranch series

Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague; Stormy, Misty’s Foal; Sea Star; and King of the Wind

For adults:

Seabiscuit; The Horsewoman; Perestroika in Paris;  Horse Girls;  The Eighty-Dollar Champion;  Renegade Champion: The Unlikely Rise of Fitzrada; and Equal to the Challenge: Pioneering Women of Horse Sports