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Book of the Month: Falling for Eli

As soon as I fell for the book Falling for Eli  (during chap 1, paragraph 1), I knew I would blog about it. But the “Book of the Month” idea just came to me. I’m a huge lover of books and I sincerely hope that the next generation does not emerge from an iPhone-iPad-Wii childhood with blog-post length attention spans. I really want people to read my blog, but I also want them to read books (preferably the paper kind, but I’m not going to push my luck). By promoting a book a month, I can counteract some of the quick-fix pollution in the Blogosphere and remind people that a good 200 pages will transport you to places a post or tweet simply cannot reach.

Falling for Eli

The journey author Nancy Shulins took me on began here:

“Letting go of a dream is a process, a series of openings and closings of the hand, as you watch the magic dust you’ve been cradling so carefully trickle away in thin streams. It’s a progression, one that cannot be rushed. The key is to practice losing a bit at a time, lest you fall apart when you see it’s all gone.”

Anyone who has battled infertility knows exactly what Shulins is talking about (but few of us could put it into such poignant, perfect words). I remember the magic dust trickling away month after month, IVF after IVF. What I didn’t know back then was that all those thin streams would converge, circle back, and, all in good time, dump a river’s worth of magic into my life. For Nancy Shulins, the magic came in the form of a 1200-pound baby.

Falling for Eli: How I Lost Heart, Then Gained Hope Through the Love of a Singular Horse continues to trek through territory familiar to me, when Nancy enters the first of many Connecticut barns that replace her yearning for a baby nursery:

“I inhale the heady aroma of horses, manure, wood shavings, and hay, with top notes of worn saddle leather, and realize how much I have missed it.”

I was a horse owner from age 8 to 22 (well, ornery-pony owner for the first few years) and then spent most of my 20s out of the saddle and on catwalks. It was just before my first in vitro fertilization that I returned to riding. I needed comforting—the dreamy feeling of cantering, being one with a horse, needing no one and nothing else, if at least for the hour I was at the barn. Nancy Shulins didn’t own a horse as a kid, but she had ridden enough times to have caught the bug, which lay dormant until this crucial time in her life, when she desperately needed to fill a void.

She buys Eli and treats him like her first-born. She’s a patient and over-protective mom. Lots of mommy and me time, 20 pounds of carrots a week—Eli is one lucky boy. Nancy’s devotion and passion for her overgrown toddler lead to hours and hours of careful observation, studying, training, and ultimately a knowledge of all things equine that put this long-time horse lover to shame. I learned something I didn’t know about horses from every chapter. I also developed an increased appreciation for never having to call a vet during the decade+ I owned my  hearty Appaloosa. Was our luck due to good genes or his environment? My $1200 steed never lived cooped up in a stall or wore fancy blankets, even in frigid Rochester winters. He roamed a 5-acre field with a fellow gelding and a mare, and wandered in and out of the barn as he pleased (Board – $75/month!). We went trail riding, played Cops & Robbers in the woods, jumped for fun, went to 4-H horse camp. Eli’s world is not like that and neither is the world of most horses in lower Connecticut (or in Spain, for that matter). I tried ten stables before I found one where I thought the horses got enough turnout. (I’m appalled by Fairfield County’s fancy clubs with giant green mowed fields and horses relegated to dark stalls.) Nancy also grapples with the issues of modern-day “privileged” horse life and the former AP correspondent’s insights into how we treat horses and how they respond are fascinating and instructive. This is a must-read for any equestrian or aspiring equestrian.

Falling for Eli is also for anyone struggling with infertility and looking for hope. Nancy teaches us to think outside the box; it’s inside a box stall (who woulda thought?) that her spirit is nuzzled back to life.

Moms? Yes, this book absolutely belongs in the “Motherhood” category. Nancy teaches us about good parenting—waking in the middle of the night and not holding grudges, being there no matter what and loving unconditionally, being educated and being kind—and she teaches empathy for the women with dashed hopes of motherhood, the women letting go of dreams in thin streams of magic dust.

Really any book or animal lover will find the story of Eli, an endearing fellow, and Nancy, his humble and adoring “mom,”  hard to resist:

“Ego aside, at the end of the day none of my inadequacies at horse keeping detract from the stuff that really matters, the moments that are just Eli’s and mine. They come along every now and then: the day he watches me hug a girlfriend in greeting and jealously insinuates his head in between us; the morning he responds to my momentary tears of frustration by bringing his luminous brown eye so close to my blue one, I feel the sweep of his chestnut lashes as he peers as if into my soul.”

Read more here: FallingforEli.com

Author Nancy Shulins

Nancy and Eli


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