About the Book

Developing the Book | About the BookAdventures of The Idylwild Cowgirls

Developing the Book

Idylwild Cowgirls Debbie Segal Book Cover

Growing up on a cattle farm next to Paynes Prairie in north-central Florida, I often commuted by horseback along the edge of Highway 441 to visit my teenage friends ‘north of the prairie’.  This writing project began as a small memoir that was intended to preserve a magical chapter from my adolescence when my friends and I reined our horses along the roads, trails, and wildlands of south Gainesville.  As I composed my memoire, I contacted old friends who were my horse buddies over four decades ago, and asked them to recount their memories of our horse-riding days.  And their horse stories flowed.  Tales were exciting, astonishing, heart-warming, scary, gutsy, sad, and almost unbelievable – cowgirl escapades from authentic Gainesville that needed to be told.  I realized then that the scope of this story was much larger than my narrow experiences.  It needed to encompass the shared exploits of these adventurous young cowgirls.

The Idylwild Cowgirls portrays the adventures of a group of cowgirls as they gallop their horses through the summer of 1973.  The story unfolds in rural south Gainesville when this college community was quieter, less developed, and easily navigable by young teens on horseback. 

About the book

The Idylwild Cowgirls is a Young Adult novel with a reading level geared to high school and advanced middle school reading.  Although it is a Young Adult novel, the book was written with adults in mind, especially adults with a horse connection, those who enjoy adventure stories, and those who wish to relive a magical adolescence of freedom and adventure.

The Idylwild Cowgirls is a friendship story.  A friendship among a group of young girls with many similarities – they lived in the same rural neighborhood, maintained a deep bond with their horse, and were given complete freedom to wander.   Times were different back then – fewer cars, narrow roads with wide grassy edges, and less parental supervision.

The story of The Idylwild Cowgirls straddles the line between fiction and nonfiction.  The cowgirls are real gals who grew up in rural south Gainesville, Florida and they lived many of these adventures.  In the novel, the story occurs during the summer of 1973, but in reality, those events occurred over the course of many years.

The Idylwild Cowgirls captures a time in recent history when riders throughout rural America galloped along endless dirt roads, reined their horses to the local store for a cold drink, and gripped the manes as their mounts propelled them through the water of a cool swimming hole.   It preserves those magical and carefree days when there were few limits placed on how far young riders could travel on horseback and how creative and cavalier their young minds could be.

Adventures of The Idylwild Cowgirls

In Chapter 15, three of the cowgirls – Andi, Tessa, and Kris – coax their horses across a cattle gap and enter the property of the new state park.   They meander along a lovely tree-covered trail until they are presented with a vista of the vast prairie marsh.  From a high bluff, they spot a raised berm that bisects the vast wetland.  They kick their horses into a gallop, go thundering down the escarpment, and speed across the muddy dike.

Before long the horses’ hooves bog down in the soggy mud, and the riders find themselves on a dike that is disappearing into the vastness of Paynes Prairie.  They rein their mounts to a stop and discover they are surrounded by creepy snakes and bellowing alligators.  With trepidation, they continue along the disappearing dike, hoping to escape the plethora of reptiles and mosquitoes so they can return to the safety of their Idylwild neighborhood.  They reach the other side of the wetland, but Paynes Prairie is relentless and continues its grasp on the adventurous explorers.

In Chapter 27, Claire and her sister round up the other cowgirls and lead a posse in search of her dad’s cows that have escaped onto the prairie.  Claire loans her dependable mount to Jodi and borrows Rainbow-the-stallion for the cattle drive.  The unruly stallion is rarely ridden and he shakes his head, prances, and refuses to settle down. When the drovers finally discover the missing cows, the barn-sour stallion bolts uncontrollably and takes Claire on a runaway gallop.  As he bolts, the stallion slings the shanks of the bit up rendering the bridle and reins completely useless for halting the horse.

And in Chapter 30,  three of the cowgirls are strolling along with no destination in mind when Andi suggests they ride to the golf course where her daddy plays golf.  They aim west, cross under the interstate, and pass the few gas stations that are huddled around the interchange until they reach the country club.   After a short siesta next to a pond, they gallop their horses across the manicured fairway, crossing sand traps and circling flagpoles like they were barrels on a barrel racing course. Their exhilaration quickly vanishes when they spot angry groundskeepers chasing after them in golf carts.

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