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London, 1600. Rarely, if ever, has a city been so rich in stories to tell: Shakespeare’s plays, Gloriana’s court, explorers, scientists, alchemists, the violence of the bear pit, the threat of rebellion, the spectre of plague, the fear of witchcraft. No wonder Rupert Isaacson was drawn to the tale of William Banks. How did a poor boy from the Welsh borders transform himself into the city’s most famous entertainer? And once established, how did he manage to so astonish the thousands that gathered to watch him and his horse Marocco perform, that they were driven to leave the city in fear of their lives. As an exile, Banks is forced to live by his wits, escaping the Inquisition, fleeing across the ocean to Virginia and finally returning to play out his own desire for revenge against the backdrop of civil war.
To relate all the many lives, loves and intrigues of Mr. Banks and his horse would fill a shelf of books so we’re pleased to confirm that Rupert Isaacson is already deep into his research. There’s a lot to cover: the Elizabethan underworld; techniques of Renaissance horsemanship; the international brotherhood of gypsy horse-breeders in early modern Europe; the Powhatan Indians approach to animal husbandry; the horrors of Elizabethan sea travel; the use of cavalry in the English Civil War; the shifting fortunes of the Earls of Essex and the economics of running a Jacobean tavern, all will add to the richness of the story.
Over the next year, you can join Rupert on his journey, as Banks’s Game begins to take shape. Inside his Shed, he will share his research findings and let subscribers read extracts from work in progress. You can try the first extract now, to give you a taste of what is to come.
If the book is successfully funded 5% of all pledges will go to support the Horse Boy Foundation.
UNBOUND TIP: A historical doorstop for the discerning in the tradition of Labyrinth, Wolf Hall and the works of C.J. Sansom
Thousands of them were there, spread below us on Ludgate Hill, roaring.
"Banks’s Game! Banks’s Game!"
Marocco, despite his old age, stepped into his piaffe as light as air, light as the warm breeze coming over the Thames from the forested Surrey Wolds. I did not look down. Jimson-weed from the Americas coursed through my veins like fire. I saw things that I knew should not be there.
Rupert Isaacson’s life is almost as eventful as Banks’s. He was born in London to a South African mother and a Zimbabwean father and spent fifteen years riding and training horses and working as travel journalist and guidebook author. This took him all over Asia, Africa and North America. His interest in tribal peoples led him to establish the Indigenous Land Rights Fund, a non-profit organization that helps threatened and displaced tribes to secure ownership of their ancestral lands.
It was during his work with the San people of the Kalahari in Southern Africa that he first encountered shamanic healing. This became the subject of his first book, The Healing Land (2004) and went on to inform his third and most celebrated: The Horse Boy (2009), the extraordinary story of how he and his psychologist wife Kristin took their six-year-old autistic son Rowan across Mongolia on horseback to find a shaman who might help relieve his (and their) suffering. The book became a global bestseller and the film of their journey won many awards.
With the proceeds the Isaacsons have established the Horse Boy Foundation, which enables children – particularly those on the autistic spectrum – to have close contact with horses and nature, a therapeutic technique that has achieved significant clinical results. Rupert also owns and trains his own Lusitano stallions, which are stabled at the world-famous Pen Lleyn Stud in Wales.
It is was this sympathetic connection with horses that first alerted Rupert to William Banks, history’s first recorded horse-whisperer. It’s a story he was born to tell.
Here’s what people said about The Horse Boy
'The Horse Boy can change the way you see your life, and it's a terrifically good read at the same time. It feels like a classic'. LUIS ALBERTO URREA
'Everyone who is fascinated by the human-animal bond should read this totally engrossing book' TEMPLE GRANDIN
'It is probably only once in a critical lifetime that one will be moved almost to tears by [such] an account' DAILY TELEGRAPH
'Magical, miraculous, uplifting' DAILY MAIL
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