Ann Leary visits Candace Bushnell at her cozy Connecticut cottage and talks about her life with horses.
PHOTOS BY Rich Pomerantz
Published Winter 2012
Candace Bushnell is the critically acclaimed, international best-selling author of Sex and the City, Summer and the City, The Carrie Diaries, One Fifth Avenue, Lipstick Jungle, Trading Up and Four Blondes. Sex and the City, published in 1996, was the basis for the HBO hit series and two subsequent blockbuster movies. Lipstick Jungle became a popular television series on NBC. Recently, both The Carrie Diaries and One Fifth Avenue were optioned for yet more television shows.
Do you recall the first time you sat on a horse? How old were you?
Ha — I love that question. When I was four we moved to a new house in Glastonbury, Connecticut. The people who lived across the street had Morgan horses, but they also had a tiny Shetland pony, which I would lure to the fence and then try to get on its back. I think I probably made a hackamore out of string. Luckily the neighbors were best friends with my parents, so they thought it was funny. Finally, the man dug up an old Western saddle and put it on the pony, and I used to ride it around the field. It would run around squealing, and I must have fallen off quite a bit.
I don’t know where this riding bug came from, but I used to beg my mother every day to let me ride. I thought if I didn’t ride, I’d die.
My parents really didn’t understand, but at last, when I was seven, my mother told me we were going to do something really special — we were going to a stable where I would have a riding lesson. (I have two younger sisters; although they’d evinced no interest in horses, they were co-opted into this experience as well.) My mother never did anything by halves, so we went to a second-hand tack shop and bought little jodhpurs and field boots and hats. This was all so deliriously exciting.
The stable was in the next town in Marlboro. Our instructor was Spanish — Mr. Alvarez — who seemed very old and wizened but he was probably only forty.
I rode an enormous black horse, and I remember doing cavalettis right away — probably on our second lesson. After a few months, my mother realized that this horse obsession wasn’t going away, so we leased a tiny black pony named Mini, who was 12-2 hands. All my friends rode, and we were fearless. I used to jump Mini three feet. I took him to my first horse show — a very local, backyard affair — and won two blue ribbons, probably on the cuteness factor alone.
Did you have any other childhood horses? What kind of riding did you do?
Eventually we moved into another house that had a three-horse barn and pastures. My sisters and I each had a horse. My horse was named Harry — he was a quarterhorse who could jump a five-foot straight rail from a trot. I was in Pony Club, so we did dressage, cross-country, and stadium jumping. At that time, Glastonbury Pony Club had just won the national Pony Club championship so we were considered the best Pony Club in the country. It was very competitive, but not the way it is today — these were mostly middle-class kids on 15-hundred dollar horses. You can barely board a horse for a month for that price today.
It was idyllic riding, though. It seemed like everyone I knew had a horse. There were miles and miles of trails along the Connecticut River. It wasn’t unusual to ride 30 minutes to your hour-long lesson and then ride home. We used our horses like cars. We went on picnics and took them swimming.
The head of our Pony Club was a woman named Jan Conant. She’d written a children’s book called Half Pint, about her adventures running a stable on the Cape when she was 18, and she was an amazing artist. She was also a top-notch horsewoman; she had several riders who went to the Olympics. I was both terrified and fascinated by her, and I could never tell whether she liked me or not, although I would live on her farm for a couple of weeks each summer and ride two or three times a day, while also cleaning the stalls, etcetera. I’d go with my best friend and we were always up to all kinds of tricks — one time we gave this really snotty girl Ex-Lax gum. Terrible, but we laughed about it for days.
Jan Conant was great friends with Bill Steinkraus, who had a stable with brasses that were polished every day — one of those kinds of places. He had Olympic dressage horses, and one afternoon Jan Conant took me with her to ride. I did passage and piaffe. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve ever had.
You’re an iconic New Yorker — your bestselling books Lipstick Jungle, One Fifth Avenue, Summer and the City and of course Sex and the City all take place in Manhattan. When did you move to New York and did you continue riding during your years in the city?
I sold my horse a month before I went to college. I’d kind of had enough of riding — I’d been doing it every day for ten years. It was starting to get dangerous. The jumps on the cross-country courses were getting bigger and wider; suddenly you needed a much more expensive horse to not only compete but to stay in one piece. So I gave it up, although I’d ride occasionally at Claremont Stables in Manhattan. I actually met one of my first boyfriends riding the trail in Central Park.
What made you return to riding and what kind of riding do you do now? Do you compete?
I was spending a lot of time at my house in Connecticut writing books. I’d finish working around three in the afternoon, and then I’d watch Dr. Phil and Judge Judy. I realized there had to be a better way to spend my time, so I decided to start riding again. Then, of course, I got hooked again. If you grew up riding, the mere smell of the barn brings back a cascade of memories. It’s like going home.
I try to ride four or five days a week, depending on my schedule and the weather. In the summer, I’ll compete in local dressage shows. Last summer I did third-level, although my poor horse got a Lyme Disease tick, and so the end of the summer was a wash. But hopefully we’ll be back next summer.
Would you ever consider writing a novel set in the horse world?
Yes, I’d like to. I’m always bugging my editors about it, but they say the audience is too small.