by Sylvia Harris
Review by Kimberly Poppiti, Ph.D. on Oct 16th 2012
In Long Shot: My Bipolar Life and the Horses Who Saved Me, the authors use the metaphor of a horse race to tell Sylvia Harris' life story. It is an easy and engaging read that traces Harris' life from a relatively happy childhood, through decades of struggling with bipolar disorder (which surfaced in her late teens), to Harris' recent success as a professional jockey riding thoroughbred racehorses.
Having wrestled with bipolar disorder for all of her adult life, Harris developed a survival strategy that combined Buddhist chanting, alcohol and prescription medications; this kept her afloat and functioning fairly normally for periods of time, but she was never able to quite hold it together and so spent decades embroiled in an ongoing struggle against the highs and lows of a disorder that made it nearly impossible for her to sustain any personal relationships – even with her children - or to successfully hold a job – even if it meant she went hungry or turned to prostitution. Harris' struggles continued until she found her way to a horse farm. Here, she rekindled her childhood connection with horses and, simultaneously, with other aspects of her younger self. Slowly, but fairly steadily, Harris regained control of her life.
As a woman, as an African American, and as an older rider, never having won a race by age forty, the odds were stacked against Harris succeeding as a jockey. Her history of failed relationships and careers made it just as unlikely that she would succeed in either of those areas; hence the book's title. Harris is definitely a "long shot." However, as the subtitle asserts, Harris believes that she has indeed beaten the odds and that it is the horses she works with who have enabled her to do so. Long Shot is not a "how to" manual for dealing with bipolar disorder; it is an engaging memoir about a woman who has suffered greatly and, finally, seems to have found peace and success working with racehorses. I was left with both the hope that she can sustain her success and the suspicion that she may not.
© 2012 Kimberly Poppiti
Dr. Kimberly Poppiti, Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts & Dance; Dowling College