From the first head-cracking tumble from a spirited racehorse, Natalie Reinert’s novel The Head and Not the Heart romps through the life of slightly obsessed racetrackers who rise at 4 a.m. to face the uncertainty, and occasional calamity, of a new day in the Thoroughbred world.
With a journalistic writing style that puts you there— in the shed row, at the track on a frigid day, and in the early morning hours when no sane person should be awake— Reinert tells the tale of fictional characters Alex and Alexander, and their exceptionally hard work managing a racehorse farm.
Alex is a Florida-based exercise rider who adores horses, but secretly yearns to shed her dusty coveralls for a new life and city living at its best in NYC. Alexander is a somewhat remote, strong, silent individual who owns the large breeding operation where the two of them pin their hopes on yearlings and first-place finishes at the track.
They sacrifice their free time, work from sunup to way beyond sundown, grow weary, and worry after their horses as parents do their children. But their hard-won victories pay off in heartwarming ways, demonstrating how the world of horses gets into the blood like a sickness and hangs on like a jockey to a runaway horse.
Readers of the The Head and Not the Heart enter into the world of galloping horses and the difficulties of training babies, and, at the same time, glimpse Reinert’s own past.
“Alex is very similar to me,” Reinert says. “Anyone who knows me will recognize that. The character of Alex is very realistic.”
Before the intrepid exercise rider, racehorse trainer and one time eventer stepped into the quicksand of the horse world, she had her heart set on becoming a reporter for NPR.
The gifted writer who once worked as a consigner at the Ocala, Fla. Breeder’s Sale, and as a groom for Ralph Hill, and who only studied journalism in fits and starts, wields a heavy dose of sarcasm and grammatical know how in her Retired Racehorse Blog about the daily issues of life in the Thoroughbred world.
As with so much of what she writes, Reinert weaves her story of hard-bitten racetrack life with a graceful turn of phrase, and self-deprecating humor.
Like the character in her book, Reinert alternated between loving every moment on the farm, caught up in the struggle to rear and train the fragile, occasionally naughty creatures, and, at times, pining for a more ordinary life.
“There’s so much sacrifice with horses. You can’t do anything else,” she says. “And if you do go out, off the property, your cell phone is by your side.
“I used to escape to Sea World for a couple of hours” to get away from the farm, and it was amazing to see a world with whales and penguins, and not horses,” she says.
Reinert’s husband worked on the property with her, attending to the constant demands. “We were together all the time on the property. He’d be out mowing, and I’d be with a horse.”
The life was hard. “You give up your social life. It’s demanding. The horses eat in the morning and at night, the barn has to be taken care of, and something will go wrong everyday,” she notes.
After “burning out” on the horse-farming life, Reinert and her husband and son relocated to Brooklyn, NY, where she began exercising racehorses and writing hilarious accounts of life with her rebellious pupils.
A year spent sitting atop bucking, spooking horses, on frigid mornings at 5am, was a great job that she happily jettisoned to sit in a warm house; cozy with two writing desks and a cup of coffee.
Now she channels her “Nat-a-tude” (attitude) into her daily observations about the Thoroughbred and horseracing world.
In [Retired Racehorse Blog] she delivers straightforward, hard-hitting humor combined with her strong opinions on everything from whether whips should be used in races, to trends in the training of off-track Thoroughbreds.
And on the horizon is a possible sequel to The Head and not the Heart!
Taking a break from all her writing, Reinert began her interview with Off-TrackThoroughbreds.com by stating, “I woke up with an idea this morning.
So yes, there will be another Alex and Alexander story!”