Guest Dispatches: Rincon Valley, Arizona

Caitlin Brennan (aka dancinghorse) just far enough outside of Tucson to be in rural rather than urban Arizona, on Dancing Horse Farm where she breeds and raises beautiful white Lipizzan Horses. She’s already known for her adult horse fantasies, The Mountain’s Call, Song of the Unmaking, and Shattered Dance. When I learned she writing a horse-based fantasy for teen and pre-teen readers, me and my inner horse girl were both thrilled.

House of the Star was everything I hoped it would be: magical horses and girls who dream of riding them, travel between worlds, a touch of faerie magic, and more than a touch of Southern Arizona desert.

Here’s what she had to say about living in Southern Arizona:


I moved to Tucson for my health.

Seriously. I did. I developed fibromyalgia, I was rusting shut in Connecticut, and my doctor said, “Move somewhere with less humidity.” I already had friends in Arizona, also there for their health, who invited me to come out and have a look.

Before that, I would have sworn that I would never, ever leave New England. I was born and bred there. I loved (and still love) the landscape, the ocean, the extremes of the seasons. I hate hot weather. I love the cold. There’s nothing better than a good old nor’easter in a warm house with plenty of tea and hot chocolate. And those colors in the fall? The way apples taste just like the air? How could I leave all that behind?

I might have toughed it out. But one very important thing became harder and harder.

That was the horses, and the riding. I’ve loved them all my life. I’m a horse kid. I’m one of those people for whom the half-ton herbivore with the giant publicity machine is pretty much a necessity. You sleep, you eat, you breathe. You do horses.

It was getting so I couldn’t ride. It wasn’t so much that it hurt as that I couldn’t move. I couldn’t mount easily, and riding was an exercise in stiff frustration.

Plus, there was the fact that, in Connecticut, horse boarding is fairly plentiful, but it’s incredibly expensive. In the winter you need a covered arena to ride much at all, which further adds to the expense. I was getting tired of leasing or borrowing other people’s horses, I wanted my own, and I wanted my own farm, because I was also tired of living by other people’s rules.

[House of the Star cover]“Year-round riding,” my friends said. “Horse country. Affordable boarding–and land, and horse facilities, and…”

I didn’t exactly book the next flight, but I came pretty close.

My first sight of Tucson was from the air, in a late October sunset. Miles and miles of rugged brown landscape, and this pellucid sky. It was dark by the time the plane landed. The city was a long dark tunnel lit by headlights, with a hotel at the end of the road.

In the morning I woke up, drew the drapes, and saw Mountains. Not just hills, those. They were some serious jagged slopes with sunrise on them, and the bluest sky I’d ever seen, even in Maine in October.

That did it for me. It was an alien planet, a climate and a landscape like nothing I’d ever seen before, but it felt right. Much to my surprise, I realized I could live there.

I moved out the following summer. The horses came one by one–the first just a month after the moving van deposited all my worldly goods in an apartment on the east side of Tucson. After one and half horses and two years came the five acres in a little town outside of Tucson, with the horse facilities.

By then I’d lived through one of the hottest summers on record, and survived. I’d learned that when the heat breaks along about October, suddenly you understand why human beings want to live here. I’d sloshed through the Floods of ’93, and seen the wildfires on the mountains. So many extremes–and I loved them all. I was home.


You can see images of both the white horses and the Rincon valley the book trailer for House of the Star:

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