by Barbara Sherf
You might say that 61-year-old Mt. Airy resident Nancy Peter, author of the just-published “Twenty Horses,” is saddled with a lot of responsibility. But she is no neigh-sayer jockeying for position. Wide-eyed and smiling on the cover of her new book, Peter is seen with Cheyenne, a lovely mare she rides out of the bucolic Monastery Stables off Kitchens Lane in West Mt. Airy.
Peter was born and raised in Mt. Airy, then spent time in Massachusetts and Phoenixville before settling down with her husband, Kevin Peter, back into “her hood” to raise their son, Ben, who attended C.W. Henry School not far from the Weavers Way Co-op, where Nancy’s mother was a founding member. Peter will be speaking and selling copies of her book at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane, on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2 p.m.
Throughout the funny and at times moving 70-page book, Peter talks about being torn between a career working with animals and a writing career. (She has owned dogs, cats, horses, chinchillas, parrots, mice, hamsters, snakes, ferrets, fish and turtles.) She sided with the animals and has no regrets, holding an array of positions as Director of Education for the Academy of Natural Sciences, Curriculum Manager at Fairmount Park Commission and Founder and Director of Out-of School Time Resource Center.
Peter is definitely no one-trick pony. An adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, she also currently serves as the Director of the McKinney Center for STEM Education at the Philadelphia Education Fund. In 2012 she received her Doctorate in Education from Penn. While she had been riding horses since childhood, she got her first horse at the age of 58 and started writing about the horses she had formed deep relationships with in December, 2015.
“I figured that if Keith Richards could write a book, then I could write a book. And if I could get my doctorate in my 50s, then I could do this,” she said, laughing at a corner table at High Point Café, having just finished a ride. “I was always telling stories of my horseback riding escapades, and I realized I had this whole lifetime of stories about different horses that I found interesting, and apparently other people did too.”
A book about horses is not going to make the author financially stable in and of itself, but Peter has so far sold close to 100 copies through word of mouth and on Amazon.com. Half of the proceeds are going to Monastery Stables in Fairmount Park, where Peter holds several leadership positions.
“Our most potentially damaging accident ended up being inconsequential,” according to one anecdote in the book. “I was cantering along a straight path with my friend Barb when the hood of my winter coat got caught on a tree branch. Since I was riding bareback, the branch simply pulled me straight off of Wyatt, and I landed flat on my back on the hard, packed winter trail. Barb was terrified and yelled, ‘Oh my God, are you okay?’ Wyatt was scared, too. Some horses would welcome the opportunity to rid themselves of their rider and trot on home. Wyatt, however, came back and nudged me until I got to my feet and patted his head. I had a bruised hipbone but nothing more serious.”
Later in that chapter Peter recounts Wyatt’s eventual retirement: “I went to the barn to say goodbye to Wyatt. I groomed and grazed him, fed him carrots and apples and told him how much I loved him. The last I heard (a young girl) was riding Wyatt bareback in the nearby fields, pastures and woodlands. I do miss Wyatt. He was not the first horse I ever loved, but I believe he was the first horse that loved me back.”
Peter feels there are many lessons that animals, horses and riding can teach us. “The best horseback riding is when I’m riding really well and am totally in control of the horse, but all of my actions are minimal and subtle; the reins are loose, and to me that is a metaphor for life. That balance of being on top of things but also relaxing and knowing when to be in control and when to relent.”
In addition to their biological son, Ben, the Peters have “adopted” Hussain Ali, whose father was killed in a massacre by the Taliban when Hussain was four years old. “He had a full scholarship to Friends Select School in center city, and I call him the exchange student that never exchanged back,” said Nancy, noting that Hussain is 23 and in college in Virginia. “He is not legally adopted, but I call him my son and he calls me mom.”
Peter said if she would write another book, it would be called “Seven Snakes.” … “I used to keep a lot of reptiles and amphibians and run a pet store. At one point I had seven snakes, and there are some really strange stories around that,” Peter laughed.
“Twenty Horses” is being sold locally at Big Blue Marble, Bjorn and Company in Chestnut Hill and Amazon. Peter will also have a book signing and reading during the Pennsylvania Equestrian Council Meeting on Monday, March 5, 6:30 p.m., at Cathedral Village in upper Roxborough.
For more information, email Nancy.Peter@verizon.net. Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf co-authored “Cowboy Mission: The Best Sermons are Lived Not Preached” with her late father. She can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.