Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Eager Star

Eager Star
Series: Winnie The Horse Gentler (2)
Dandi Daley Mackall
2002, Tyndale House

"I'll bridle him," Grant said, studying the lighter bit. He grabbed Star's ear, then thrust the bit at him. Star jerked his head up. Before I could stop him, Grant slapped his horse on the cheek.

"Quit it!" I cried, jerking the bridle out of Grant's hands. "You can't punish Star because you don't know how to put on a bridle!" My heart pounded. God? Take my anger...again! Please!

Series info - Winnie Willis tackles her second and third project horses after turning Wild Thing into Nickers in the first book in series.

Winnie's family settled in Ohio after her widowed father moved them around for a few years. She wants to follow in her mother's footsteps and become a gentle horse trainer, and has had one success with a wild Arabian mare. Now she's set on training her friend's Appaloosa and a classmate's barrel racing gelding. But can her gentle methods overcome the demanding, rough ways of Eager Star's owner?

This Christian novel balances the heroine's religious beliefs with the secular plots, and the heroine's attempts to apply equine behaviorism to the other kids in her new school are endearing. The author does a credible job of putting training and handling information into the plot in a natural way, although I'm sure others might debate her information. There is a glossary of horse terms, a guide to horse body language and a conformation chart at the end of the book, all very useful and interesting. It's a better series book, but it's still clearly a series book. The writing is competent but not strong, the plot involving but never urgent, and secondary characters are stock - the wacky pal, the hot ethnic pal, the distant father.

Nickers - grey Arabian mare
Towaco - Appaloosa mare
Bad Boy/Eager Star - bay gelding with star

Other books in Winnie series
Wild Thing
Bold Beauty
Midnight Mystery
Unhappy Appy
Gift Horse
Friendly Foal
Buckskin Bandit

Other horse books - the Horsefeathers! series
Horse Cents!
Horse Whispers In The Air
A Horse Of A Different Color
All The King's Horses
Horse Angel
Home Is Where Your Horse Is
A Horsefeather's Mystery

Starlight Animal Rescue series
Mad Dog
Wild Cat
Dark Horse

Other Books - nonfiction
Horse Files: A Horse Lover's Guide

Author information
A prolific professional writer who lives in Ohio, Daley Mackall has written fiction and nonfiction for children, teens and adults. Horsefeathers! is another equine series, while Starlight Animal Rescue features characters from the Winnie series.

Author Website

For another view of the Winnie series, see the blog Books, Mud and Compost

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Black Stallion's Courage

The racehorse Alysheba, winner of the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, has been euthanized at the age of 25 following a fall in his stall. The retired champion had been returned to American only recently, having spent much of his stud career in Saudi Arabia. The stallion was living at the Kentucky Horse Park (a facility which hosts large equestrian events year-round and is set to be the site of the 2010 World Equestrian Games) where fans could visit him at the public Hall of Champions.

In honor of all the Thoroughbreds - including fellow Derby winner Lil E. Tee, who was euthanized this month after suffering complications from stomach surgery - here's a racing story from Walter Farley, the single best writer to tackle the difficult task of making the tough, often harsh world of horse racing accessible to children.

The Black Stallion's Courage
Walter Farley
1956, Random House

Suddenly the ceiling directly above them exploded and slender bits of flame fell at Alec's feet, igniting the straw. He and the mare leaped as one through the stall door and into the corridor.

A fire claims Hopeful Farm's newest barn and Alec Ramsay, sensing something wrong with Henry's Kentucky Derby winner Black Minx, brings the Black back to racing. Henry is unhappy with the stallion's return from retirement, feeling that his own Black Minx will more than pay for the new barn. But the mercurial filly seems to have become bored with racing after her Derby triumph. As Henry works with Baby, as the filly's known around the track, Alec watches the meteoric rise of the burly brown colt Eclipse and the 3-year-old colt Casey. In a year of unusual quality, three great racehorses meet in a final showdown at the Brooklyn Handicap.

Now there was no past, no other race. Nothing but the one to come, with the three of them in a row, waiting for the door flaps to spring open and set them free.

Farley's style was easy and accessible, despite the fact that so much of his plots depended on specialist language. He had a great knack for making racetrack lingo and horse-speak easily understood and never letting it get in the way of the story. His characters, apart from Alec, were fairly stock, but solid and believable. Alec was a bit unusual as a male hero - he was so quiet, almost withdrawn, non-confrontational, deferential to Henry and pretty much everyone else. He clearly prefers the company of horses, particularly the Black, to that of people, but he never seems awkward with other people. He comes across as a nearly invisible stand-in for the reader, only emerging as an individual on the rare occasion that he disagrees verbally with Henry.

Napoleon - elderly grey gelding
The Black - 17h black stallion
Miz Liz - chestnut mare with blaze
Black Minx - 2-year-old black filly 'Baby'
Wintertime - 2-year-old blood bay colt 'Red'
Eclipse - 2-year-old brown colt with blaze 'Pops'
Golden Vanity - 2-year-old chestnut colt 'Sunny'
Silver Jet - 2-year-old grey colt 'Bud'
Lone Hope
Casey - 5-year-old chestnut stallion
Bold Irishman - sire of Casey
Swat - dam of Casey
Peek-a-Boo - Shetland pony

Other books by Farley
The Black Stallion (1941)
The Black Stallion Returns (1945)
Son Of The Black Stallion (1947)
The Island Stallion (1948)
The Black Stallion And Satan (1949)
The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt (1951)
The Island Stallion's Fury (1951)
The Black Stallion's Filly (1952)
The Black Stallion Revolts (1953)
The Black Stallion's Sulky Colt (1954)
The Island Stallion Races (1955)
The Black Stallion Mystery (1957)
The Horse Tamer (1958)
The Black Stallion And Flame (1960)
The Black Stallion Challenged! (1964)
The Black Stallion's Ghost (1969)
The Black Stallion And The Girl (1971)
The Black Stallion Legend (1983)
The Young Black Stallion (1989) (with Steven Farley)
Man O'War (1962)
Little Black, A Pony
Little Black Goes To The Circus
The Little Black Pony Races
Big Black Horse
The Horse That Swam Away
The Great Dane Thor

The Black Stallion Site

In Print?
Yes - Random House

The Black Stallion (1979)
The Black Stallion Returns (1983)

The Adventures Of The Black Stallion (1990-1993)

About the Author
Farley began The Black Stallion while still in high school. A New Yorker, he had a horse trainer for an uncle and spent much of his childhood around horses, including hanging around the Big Apple's three racetracks, a familiarity which resounds in The Black Stallion's Courage. He and his family split their time between a farm in Earlville, PA (about one hour northwest of Philadelphia) and a home in Venice, Florida.

Other Information

Walter Farley Literary Landmark in Venice, Florida

New York Times obituary

Kentucky Horse Park

ESPN Horse Racing - Lil. E. Tee's death

Thoroughbred Times - Alysheba's Death

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Working Trot
Jessie Haas
1983, Greenwillow Books

Working Trot. This is a pace between the collected and the medium trot in which a horse not yet trained and ready for collected movements shows himself properly balanced and, remaining on the bit, goes forward with even, elastic steps and good hock action.
USEF Handbook

James McLeish is uncertain that he's making the right decision when he arrives at his uncle's farm. His fellow graduates from Phillips Exeter are spending their summer partying before freshman year at Harvard and Yale, but he's about to skip his banker daddy's path to a Mercedes and a tie. Over the course of a year, as he works with the Lipizzaner/Arab stallion Ghazal and the farm's other horses, he slowly absorbs the rythym of what he thinks his life will be - dedicated to the art of producing a fine, fleeting perfection in a horse.

Well-written, but not wonderful. Oddly, the very thing that makes it almost unique in horse lit is what detracts from it - the conversations between trainer and rider as James struggles to master a new discipline and his uncle struggles to keep his patience. They're fascinating, but dialogue isn't the author's forte. Much of what the characters say seems artificial. It's an unusual book overall. Mostly, horse book heroines are girls still in grade or high school, riding hunter/jumper or western, and dealing with children's issues like beating out the rich girl with the fancy horse at the big show, or worrying about having their pony sold if their algebra grades don't improve (if I'd had a pony, he'd have been a goner). James is a guy, a high school grad who's elected skip college and become a working student at the farm of a relative, who just happens to be a highly respected dressage trainer whose wife is a highly respected h/j rider. Much of the book is about how to decide what to do with your life at a time when you start realizing that every door you open slams another shut, somewhere else - your options are narrowing.

Practical Information

Ghazal - grey Arab/Lipizzaner dressage stallion
Dynasty Two - chestnut mare jumper-turned-broodmare
Kubbadar - black pony gelding
Ginseng - brown gelding with stopping issues
Josy - Morgan mare
Windswept Rob Roy - bay Morgan gelding
Lady Peregrine - jumper mare
Brucie (dog) - collie

James is tremendously worried about his social standing if he eschews banking for horsemanship. He's also very critical of the girls at the farm, deciding that one's 'sturdiness' is better than a thin girl who might get 'sloppy fat' as she ages.


Just the cover, unknown il.

Other Books by Author
Keeping Barney
A Horse Like Barney
Uncle Daney's Way

Early Chapter Books
Jigsaw Pony
Birthday Pony
Runaway Radish
Beware The Mare
A Blue For Beware
Be Well, Beware
Beware And Stogie

Picture Books
Scamper And The Horse Show
Appaloosa Zebra: A Horse Lover's Alphabet

Safe Horse, Safe Rider
Hoofprints - Horse Poems

Author Website

Monday, March 23, 2009

Five O'Clock Charlie

Five O'Clock Charlie
Marguerite Henry, il. Wesley Dennis
1962, Rand McNally

A picture book about a big blonde workhorse who grows tired of retirement and longs for a new duty. Beautiful illustrations and the sort of clear, easy and to-the-point writing that made Marguerite Henry a best-seller.


Charlie - 28-year-old draft horse (looks Belgian)

Shropshire, UK

Wesley Dennis's illustrations are almost always welcome, but they really shine here, with the simple story, larger-than-life character and lovely paintings.

About the Author
A Wisconsin native most famous for Misty Of Chincoteague, Henry had two Newberry Honor books (Misty and Justin Morgan Had A Horse) and one Newberry Medal book (King Of The Wind). Her collaboration with Wesley Dennis resulted in some of the most beloved children's book of the 20th century.

More books by the Author
Justin Morgan Had A Horse
The Little Fellow
Misty Of Chincoteague
King Of The Wind
Sea Star
Born To Trot
Album Of Horses
Brighty Of The Grand Canyon
Misty, The Wonder Pony
Black Gold
All About Horses
White Stallions Of Lipizza
Mustang, Wild Spirit Of The West
Dear Readers And Riders
San Domingo, The Medicine Hat Stallion
A Pictorial Life Story Of Misty
One Man's Horse
Our First Pony
Misty's Twilight
Brown Sunshine Of Sawdust Valley

More about Wesley Dennis
A Massachusetts native who studied in Paris and was apparently an avid horseman who knew from an early age that he wanted to make a living combining his love of art and animals.

Related websites
The National Sporting Library
Children's Literature Research Collection: U. of Minn.
The Art of Wesley Dennis website

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sire Unknown

Sire Unknown
Marjorie Reynolds, il. Lorence F. Bjorklund
1968, Macmillan

Ever since he was four, he had ridden this patient pony. Although it made him feel disloyal, he couldn't help thinking You're nearly old enough to die. When you die, I bet Dad will buy me a bigger pony or maybe a horse

Boots, the bay pony who stands patiently when his rider wants to dismount and tack up a sign, does die. He's shot by a careless hunter, and Jim Evans gets his horse. But although he's thrilled to get a real horse, he's embarassed by the pinto's cow-like spots and name The Guernsey, and quickly renames him Apache Warrior. This is a fairly typical bit of dreaming for Jim, who's also convinced himself that the rich people down the road are his real parents because his dad's a fertilizer salesman and doesn't make much money. Jim's dissatisfied with his position in life, and must learn that the rich people aren't very nice while his making-do parents are very worthy.

Marjorie Reynolds is a puzzle. Her books were illustrated by gifted artists, and were simple and effective narratives; this is one of the few that doesn't quite come off. But her main characters are often quite harsh and unappealing. Here, Jim is a snob who yearns to be a rich man's son, and who wants his own pony dead so he can get a new one. When he has a chance to get justice for his pony, he runs away instead. There is a nasty thread of hate toward fat kids in all of her books - here, the fat boy Tubby is well, named Tubby, and is described endlessly.

- Tubby's chubby face
- his small eyes sparkled between their folds of fat
- Tubby took a greedy bite... caramel oozed from the corners of his mouth
- The fat face turned and looked at him
- Jim thought of how fat and squashy Tubby was

The writing can be effective or terrible. At one point, Tubby is described as 'Strutting up with the rolling gait of a barrel," an image impossible to conjure as it's so clearly at odds. A barrel can't strut, it doesn't have legs.

Horses/Other Animals
Boots - light bay pony gelding
The Guernsey/Apache Warrior - 4 y/o brown and white pinto gelding
Barberry - brown AngloArab gelding, 15hh

Tigger - beagle
Tugger - beagle
Lucy - beagle
Penny - beagle
Weaky - beagle
Little Lucy - beagle
Tiny Tigger - beagle
Butch - beagle
Funny Face - beagle

Other Books
The Cabin On Ghostly Pond (1962)
A Horse Called Mystery (1964)
Dark Horse Barnaby ( 1967)
Keep A Silver Dollar (1967)
Ride The Wild Storm (1969)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hobby Horse Hill
Lavinia R. Davis, il. Charles Beck
Pictured edition - 1966 Scholastic paperback

Terry didn't have time to care. She was too busy getting settled on Pigeon's broad back. You couldn't get a grip at all in silk pajamas, and the leathers chafed her knees. None of the grown-ups was going along. She was off for a long afternoon on this uncomfortable pony, and nobody to help her but Rod and Kate. It was like riding in your night clothes in a bad dream.

Poor Terry! Packed off to stay with 'the wild Wades,' her cousins in rural Conneticut, while her parents go to Europe, she's intimidated by their careless ways and their effortless mastery of riding. She knows how to ride, but somehow her lessons on quality horses back home don't seem to have prepared her for tearing along the rocky back hills on a feisty little no'account pony like Frosty Roan, in the wake of her madcap cousins. And her first outing is to a fancy-dress horse drill, where a mysterious milkmaid rescues her from own own ill-chosen Chinese pajama outfit. But she adapts, and soon the cousins are engrossed with a mystery centered on their beloved boarder, Cassandra, the beautiful Irish hunter.

One of those beloved horse books that comes up every time horse nuts discuss horse books from their childhood, "Hobby Horse Hill" is the fish-out-of-water story involving horses. Betty Cavanna's very similar Spurs For Suzanna came out in 1957, and the nearly 20-year difference is notable. Terry may be concerned with clothing and manners, but she's very much a child. It's never quite clear exactly how old she is, but she's at least 12, and yet there is no suggestion of an interest or awareness in boys or approaching adolescence. She and her cousins Rod and Kate are all about riding, playing and exploring the countryside. Her fears and problems are a child's - embarassment at being made to seem ignorant, anger at being dismissed as incompetent, desire to 'show' others.

Even more obviously last-century is the earlier book's ease with it's wild vs. civilized equation. In Cavanna's book, while the city girl does learn the value of the wild farm kid's approach to life, the farm kids also discover some value in her's - her love of books and her mastery of urban life impress them. In Davis's book, the quieter girl finds her inner hoyden too, but the country kids simply dismiss her as a 'siss' until she learns to imitate them, and there is never any intimation that the way she was raised might have anything they might desire. That is a blatant ripoff of classic English children's stories; the Brits had a penchant for stories in which the heroes are forever being effortlessly superior to those around them, and nobody ever questions the grounds for that superiority by saying, for example, hey, you're so pale I can see through you and your voice sounds like a tweety bird.

Cassandra - chestnut mare, hunter
Magda - grey farm mare
Hobby Horse - brown and white colt, Magda's foal
Pigeon - gray pony mare
Virginia Girl - mare
Frosty Roan - red roan gelding

Dogs/Other Animals
Trix - fox terrier
Blaze - setter
Rubber - cocker spaniel?
Sylvia - goat

About the Author
According to the website TomFolio.com, Davis wrote over 43 books, some under the name Wendell Farmer. A collection of her diaries, The Journals of Lavinia Riker Davis, was published in 1964.


Other books by Lavinia R. Davis
Buttonwood Island (1940) (il. Paul Brown)
Pony Jungle (1941) (il. Gordon Ross)
Plow Penny Mystery (1942( (il. Paul Brown)
Melody, Muttonbone And Sam (1947) (il. Paul Brown)
The Secret Of Donkey Island (1952)
Sandy's Spurs (1951)
Donkey Detective (1955)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Gather your corned beef and grab a handful of cinnamon potatoes. Tis time to be speaking like a lucky charms commercial, don't you know. Top o' the mornin' to ye, and t'ings like that. First, a little backstory. Ireland, an unnervingly pretty country with an unnervingly ugly history, spent quite a big chunk of the 19th and 20th centuries exporting its citizenry across the ocean to the United States. The arrival of grubby masses of Catholics who liked alcohol and the pope horrified the severely Protestant nation. But things changed. By 1963, things had changed a lot. Jimmy Cagney, Gene Kelly and Patrick O'Brien had spent years atop the box office. The smarmy, tombstone-toothed John Kennedy had been elected president of the United States. Booze was legal.

But from these advances, a worse threat was born. The Irish-American myth. In The Fighting 69th, a 1940 film about a famous Irish-American army regiment in World War I, Jimmy Cagney's character shrugs off the pride and pageantry of the unit with the immortal words "I'm Irish - but I don't work at it." Sadly, most fictional Irishmen work hard at it. And as the Irish have a much-storied fondness for horses, the professional Irishman is the proverbial bad penny of mid-20th century children's horse books. C.W. Anderson was a terrible offender, but his art distracted the outraged mind. Selma Hudnut has no such help.

A Horse Of Her Own
Selma Hudnut, il. Rus Anderson
1963, D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.

Rosemary O'Connor, orphaned after a car accident kills her racehorse trainer and professional Irishman father (also her mother, though she doesn't seem as cut up about that), is living in horseless purgatory in Las Parra, California. Like many another horsey heroine, she manages to ingratiate herself (all wide-eyed and unaware) with the local horsey set, and scores a set of riding opportunities with wealthy Mr. Sedgewick, and makes best friends with his daughter Cindy. Her bete noir is Red, real name Harry Sharpe, who manages the stable of the very wealthy Mr. Medford. It's in Medford's Fallow Field Stables that she finds the horse of her dreams, an Irish horse named Dublin Jack. But Jack is hurt, and Red is neglecting him.

..a brown horse standing by the wall, his head low and lifeless. The near front leg, which he was holding off the ground, was covered from the knee down in voluminous bandages, bloody and soiled. His neck was thin and his ribs showed, his mane snarled with neglect, his coat stark.

Red is apparently a drunk who caused Jack's injuries; now, he's not treating the dying horse. And for plot-based reasons, none of the people who know about the situation - two grooms and a vet, of all people - will intervene. But by golly, Rosemary will.

Rosemary is a spunky heroine, and the supporting cast is strong. The plot is thin, even by horsey standards, but the action is interesting and the resolution satisfying. And the horsey details are deeply enjoyable:

She'd already cleaned out Irish's stall clear to the bottom, put lime down, and brought in fresh bedding. She'd made him a bran mash, given him his medication, sponged his face, and checked for signs of rubbing from the sling.

One quibble: I think I've seen this little gem in only 99% of children's books with female protagonists (and, since the start of the Sensitive Male era, not a few of those with male protagonists)

She knew she was too thin and too pale.

Oh, lord, grant me patience. Try being too fat and red, and then get back to me about the humanity.

Oddities - the Sedgwick farm has barbed wire in places. Also, that all the kids are encouraged to call a grown man by his nickname, Red, and that a book that goes all blarney on the Irish also contains a portrait of a drunken layabout.

Understudy - brown gelding
Silver Sea - fleabitten gray gelding
Mommie - bay mare, retired jumper
Chap - chestnut Thoroughbred
Sister Sue - brown mare

About Selma Hudnut
According to the dust jacket, Hudnut learned to ride in college, was a judge in the AHSA, and a contributor to The Chronicle of the Horse.

Other Books
The Redhead And The Roan
Irish Hurdles

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Triple Threat
(The Galloping Detective #1)
Claire Birch
1991, Yearling - Dell (Bantam)

Lucy Hill and Jenny Lovett split their time between Up And Down Farm, and Mrs. Lovett's tack shop, the Saddlery. Lucy's blissfully involved with rehabbing the nervous jumper Triumph and teaching her first beginner class, while Jenny's concentrating on her horse Curtain Call and her widowed mom's attempts to begin dating. Both girls are working on making Jenny's little brother into a rider in time for a lead line class at the next horse show. When there's a break-in at the Saddlery, the girls investigate, and what they find takes them back to Mrs. Lovett's new beau.

A very authentic feel is established from the first page when Lucy eats her heart out about the Maclay Medal, and the ease of writing is established by the simplicity and completeness of the explanation of same:

To win the Maclay Finals was the highest goal for a Junior hunt-seat rider.

Granted, you do need to know the implication of both 'Junior' and 'hunt-seat' but it's fairly obvious that little girls drawn to horse books would either know already, or be motivated to find out.

Much of the book is a mystery, and a lot takes place off-horse, which is always a danger sign in a horse book. But the riding sequences are satisfying.

She cantered a circle and opened up to the first jump, but somehow Triumph wasn't set up right and took an extra small stride, then hit the fence with his front feet. She rode him hard so he wouldn't run out at the next fence, but they were both off balance at the jump. As they pounded along, she tried to get it together before the second line of fences, but pressed too hard with her legs. Triumph responded with a series of small bucks before heading into the jump. From then on Lucy felt out of control and disgusted with a sloppy ride.

I have some quibbles; the punctuation is off, and the details are somewhat alienating for those not in the hunt-seat know.

There are no fat villains, no horse abusers, the antique store owner is not gay, and there is no romance for the girls. Astonishing. Overall, a higher-quality series than most.

Cover Oddities
The cover painting of a grey horse rearing very daintily, while a girl in very formal show clothes hauls on the reins from the ground is odd in various ways. The horse and girl are not sized normally, unless the horse is supposed to be a pony that would be rather small for the girl to ride. The stirrups are so tiny even a child couldn't use them, and the reins are split and incredibly long. There's a creepy ghost-man with binoculars floating in the dark background, which doesn't fit the story (neither do the show clothes or the horse) and the banners are simply odd. I'm sure there's more - oh, you know, the horse isn't wearing a saddle pad at all, just the saddle on his bare back, the horse's proportions just look odd, and the braids look more dressage than hunters.

Kaelie - Irish Thoroughbred mare
Kaelie II - foal
Triumph - brown gelding project horse
Curtain Call aka Curt - Thoroughbred gelding
Sarge - lesson horse
Pirate - pony
Copper Penny
Steel Man
Robocop - hunter

Other animals
Widget - old cat

Other books in series
Tight Spot
Collision Course
Double Danger
False Lead

Horse Show
Missing Daddy

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Fifteen Hands
Jane Sorenson
1985, Standard Publishing

Jennifer's excited to be attending the Winter Carnival in her new school, part-leasing a horse at the local stables, and coaxing her unhappy friend Chris toward Christianity.

Mostly a book about junior-high-aged kids, with a small horse plot on the side. Jennifer is exuberant and outspoken, loves horses and is trying to decide between two cute brothers while worrying about Chris, whose alcoholic mother and workaholic dad trouble her. Sweet, and the first-person narration is convincing. The writing isn't outstanding, but the heroine is presented well. The religious aspect is integrated nicely into the story. Some of the riding information is sketchy or of dubious accuracy (I am by no means an expert, but the misspelling of 'reins' as 'reigns' caught my eye.) And contrary to what the kids say in Jennifer's new Philadelphia-area school, the Mid Atlantic region does use salt and spreaders and does not shut down entirely at the first snowflake. Sadly.

Horses and other animals
Son of Callahan "Hoagie"
Andromeda "Snap" - 15h, dark brown gelding with star

Philadelphia - Delaware county

Sequel, etc.
It's Me, Jennifer
It's Your Move, Jennifer
Jennifer's New Life
Jennifer Says Goodbye
Boy Friend
Once Upon A Friendship
In Another Land


The Blue Runner
Barlow Meyers, il. Bill Wickham (cover)
1960, The Westminster Press

Outside on the platform, some greeted friends, others went immediately to cars or walked away up the street. Suddenly Mike was desperately lonely. A hard lump knotted in his throat. He had known the feeling frequently since his grandmother's death three months ago, but this was like a blow. He almost turned toward the station to buy a ticket back to that small town in New York.

Mike has been taking care of his ailing grandmother and working part-time at a riding stable through his years in high school. Now that he's graduated and his guardian has died, Mike is in Wyoming to find his father, Matt Illif, who came West years earlier to start the Pigeon Track ranch. But Mike's too stubborn and too wary to simply show up at his dad's ranch. Using his middle name as a last name, he gets himself hired on at the Pigeon Track as Mike Worth, determined to prove himself to his unsuspecting father.

Small flaw with the plan; other people. Matt has remarried and has another child, a slightly younger son named Kelly, and there are unspoken tensions in the ranch that quickly becomes Mike's problem. As the dude struggles to become a cowboy and survive the mysterious problems of the family he debates joining, he's also drawn into the dilemma of the wild horse herd that roams the area. A battle between the reigning stallion and his son, two identical blue roans...

With a whistle that resounded off the mesa sides, he cut in behind the mare, and the young stallion slid to a stop and faced his adversary. He was not going to run this time. He held his stance, rear feet separated and braced a little, so that they pushed him forward like a boxer waiting to have the fight brought to him, one forefoot raised in readiness to leap, strike or sidestep. His flat ears were hidden in his mane, his neck outstretched until the great cords showed like ropes deep in his shoulders.

... leads to the younger, less experienced and more daring horse leading his band of mares deeper into Illif's land. The angry rancher hires a mustang killer to eliminate the problem. Mike, younger and more romantic, hates to see the end of the horse, and is faced with defying his father almost as soon as he's met him or letting the horse die.

A cowboy book more than a horse book, although the last chapters do put Mike and the roan together in a partnership that ought to satisfy even the most ardent Pony Clubber. The writing is good, the plotting excellent and the characters are believable.

Other books by Author
Last Of The Wild Stallions (1949)
Tumbleweed (1952)
Fireball (1956)

About the Author
Gertrude Barlow Meyers wrote several westerns for children, and several books that were related to popular television programs of the era - The Lawrence Welk Show, The Mickey Mouse Club, and Have Gun, Will Travel. A graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University and Illinois State Normal University, with an M.A. from the University of Chicago, Meyers was a reporter in Detroit before becoming a teacher.

A website tracking people named Barlow lists her with some book jackets of her other work.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Pony For Linda
C.W. Anderson, author and illustrator
1951, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.

Once she had a ride on a little pony in a ring. It was a lazy, sleepy little pony, but Linda loved it. She talked about it for many days afterwards.

And here you have the reason it was possible to read Anderson's work - filled with upper-middle-class girl children whose lives are bursting with stables and wise old grooms and racehorses and ponies - and not absolutely loathe and hate him. He made his characters burn with desire, and although their desire was always for more than we even bothered wanting - I just wanted a horse, most of his characters wanted the next Man O'War - it was impossible not to identify with the passion. And he gets little stuff right, like how much a pony ride means to a little girl who desperately wants a pony.

Of course, Linda has something even better - a promise from her daddy that when she turns seven, she'll get a pony. And, true to his word, he produces a little pinto pony. And Linda is a very happy little girl. As her riding improves, she attends her first horse show and makes a new friend.

Horses/Ponies/Other Animals
Joker - gray gelding
Dinah - horse
Daisy - black and white pony mare
Peter - pet rooster

I've become fascinated by the tack in illustrations, something I never noticed as a child. Here, Daisy seems to be wearing a curb bit and a running martingale, as does the friend's pony at the horse show. Dinah, the horse belonging to Linda's mother, seems to wear a double bridle and running martingale, as does Joker, her father's horse. All wear the old-style jodhpurs with the billowing upper legs.

Other picture books by Anderson
Billy And Blaze
Blaze And The Gypsies
Blaze And The Forest Fire
Blaze Finds The Trail
Blaze And Thunderbolt
Blaze And The Mountain Lion
Blaze And The Indian Cave
Blaze And The Lost Quarry
Blaze And The Gray Spotted Pony
Blaze Shows The Way
Blaze Finds Forgotten Roads
Linda And The Indians
The Crooked Colt
Pony For Three
Lonesome Little Colt

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Lord Mayor's Show
Vian Smith, il. Sam Savitt (beautiful cover painting)
1969, Doubleday and Company

All you need is luck, she thought. The luck to have good horses, wealthy owners, honest jockeys, able staff; the luck to train so many winners you become 'fashionable.'

The Duncan family believes in luck, as befits a family whose business is training racehorses. Unfortunately, all their luck has been bad lately. Jennifer Duncan is old enough to realize how near to disaster her beloved, honest father has dragged his family. When the troubled racehorse The Lord Mayor puts Danny Duncan in the hospital for an extended time, Jennny forms an alliance with her estranged older brother Graham, to rescue the farm, Punchards Mill. He's reluctant, but unable to shake his responsibility. Standing firmly in the way is the pain and resentment of the displaced Danny Duncan, torn loyalties of farm hand (and would-be boyfriend to Jenny) Ben, and, most crucially, the distrust of youngest child Andrew, who loves The Lord Mayor and resents his older brother.

The very English style, low on dialogue and rich in shifting points of view and interior monologue, moves the story along at a good clip while keeping the focus on the characters, not the action. Even the animals' perspectives are used:

The gray reached the edge of the ramp and looked up, summoning his courage for an ascent which seemed long and steep. He knew he was leaving Punchards Mill. He looked around at the heads of other horses, his nostrils flaring in the beginning of a nucker. He'd never become one of them, never a bonafide racehorse. A year ago he had come among them nervously and had taken weeks to settle. Now he didn't want to leave. His glance to older horses had appeal in it.

But the central struggle is between Graham, self-exiled from the family farm after a disasterous race, and torn still between his fledgling life in London and his old, complicated family life in the West Country, and the ruined racehorse The Lord Mayor. Years before, Graham was Danny's future champion jockey, but the teenager had been fed up with his father's honest, err-on-the-side-of-the-horse approach to winning and, knowing his family desperately needed a win, rode a race that fried The Lord Mayor's mind. The horse still loathes Graham, who see Andrew's bond with the outlaw as exactly what it is; a statemment of 'forget Graham, I can be the family hero.'

Despite the focus on the male power struggle, it's Jennifer who the book returns to again and again, using her as the central stand-in for the reader. She has her own plots - a love triangle with Ben and a wealthy amateur rider, Miles, who becomes entangled in the redemption of The Lord Mayor.

The Lord Mayor - bay gelding
Fire Steward - old racehorse
Cavalier Rustic - racehorse
Prudent Polly - racehorse
Galvanic - racehorse
Miscreant - racehorse

Beautiful painting by Sam Savitt of a bay racehorse being led by a boy.

About the Author
Smith's fondness for Dartmoor shows in most of his books, and more information about his life and non-horsey books can be found on the
Widecombe-In-The-Moor website

Other Books by Author
Several books were published under different titles in the UK and US

Pride Of The Moor (Question Mark in UK) (1961)
Martin Rides The Moor (1964)
Green Heart (1964)
A Second Chance (The Horses of Petrock in UK) (1965)
Tall And Proud (King Sam in UK) (1965)
Come Down The Mountain (1967)
The Minstrel Boy (1970)


A Horse Called Freddie (1967)
Point To Point (1968)
The Grand National (1969)
Horses In The Green Valley (Parade Of Horses in UK) (1970)

Some of his non-horsey books
Song Of The Unsung: A Story of the Sappers (1945)
Candles To The Dawn (1946)
Genesis Down (1963)
The First Thunder (1965)
Moon In The River (1969)
The Wind Blows Free
Portrait Of Dartmoor

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Happily After All
Laura C. Stevenson
1990, Houghton Mifflin

Five suitcases? You brought five suitcases?

Rebecca Davidson is 10 years old and her doting father has just died of cancer. The mother she's never met has met her at the airport in frigid Vermont and is, apparently, surprised that her long-lost daughter requires more than one suitcase in which to transport the contents of 10 years of living. Rebecca decides, wisely, to say nothing. She does fight back, however, when her mother refuses to call her by her full name.

My name isn't Becca; it's Rebecca. It's an Old Testament name, like all the names in Dad's family since the Mayflower, and you don't make nicknames out of Old Testament names.

Rachel laughs at the pretensions, lays out the truth for her 10-year-old daughter (apparently Daddy misled her about their origins), rubs it in, and then refuse to call her by her chosen name.

Sent from her comfortable California home to her mother's bare Vermont farm in mid-winter, Rebecca is miserable. Her mother, who she's always been told had abandoned her, is an angry, bitter woman who couldn't be more different from her adoring father. Rebecca's only consolation are the farm animals; Rachel Davidson has horses and a dog, and Rebecca can ride. Slowly, the truth about the Davidson family's past comes out.

Rebecca suddenly remembered driving along the freeway with Dad, asking why they lived in Santa Barbara. "Because the rest of the world is ugly," he'd said.

Rachel's anger is so inappropriately directed at her daughter and she is so self-absorbed years after the end of the marriage that presumably made her this way, that she's utterly unlikeable. The dead ex-husband who cheated on her and apparently made her the bitter, selfish woman she's become comes off as more likeable.

There are subplots about an angry, unhappy foster child, and a new best friend to make, both predictable plots which resolve in strained fashion. The new friend is the most natural character, probably because she's one of the few who isn't given the awesome responsibility of being a taciturn Vermonter or a traumatized wounded bird.

Gorgeous cover illustration of a red-headed child and a horse in a barn.

Mutt - brown Belgian gelding
Jeff - Belgian gelding
Dimwit - mare
Killiger's Sundance aka Dancer - 4 yo chestnut gelding
Gone With The Wind aka Goner - bay Welsh/TB cross gelding
Fanfare - Santa Barbara horse

Other animals
Xeno - dog
Tumnus - shepherd/lab/Great Pyrenees mix


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Smoke Rings
Dorothy Lyons, il. Wesley Dennis (cover and frontispiece)
1960, Harcourt, Brace And Company

Never had Ginny had to ask him for more speed; rather it had been a matter of steadying him. Now, racing against the clock, she let him go, only taking him in at the last jump. As the fourth flashed beneath them, she reined him in to make a sharp left around the arena's end, another left - and his hindfoot slipped where churning hoofs had dug through the protective tanbark to the subsurface, slippery from frequent waterings.

Virginia 'Ginny' Atkins, owner of Java Jive, impulsively buys a huge grey Thoroughbred from an overfaced owner and finds herself training for the Olympics.

When Ginny buys Smoke Rings from his furious owner, she immediately suspects that this hugely talented horse could be her ticket to the U.S. Equestrian Team. For the next few years, that's all she works toward. And even a heartbreaking defeat - denied a place due to the Three-Day team's bias against female riders - only spurs her to greater efforts.

The entire series of Ginny books must be read with a firm suspension of disbelief. Even by horse book standards, she's preternaturally lucky. Her neighbor just happens to be a former Olympic rider who coaches her for free, she falls into owning an Olympic-calibre jumper, all her friends support her ambitions with words and deeds and her parents go along with her plans with only a token resistance. Yes, this is catnip. Ginny owns multiple horses, taps her dad for cash he's always able (if not always immediately willing) to give, and goes to the OLYMPICS. How not to love? And Smoke Rings is the perfect horse - initially described as a great hunter, he's trained successfully for cross-country, then switches to be a grand prix jumper. A few more chapters and she'd have had him steeplechasing.

On a positive note? That is a positive note. All horse fiction is crazy wish-fulfillment fiction. Lyons' writing may be more pedestrian than classics like The Black Stallion and National Velvet, but it still works that nerve with style. A satisfying book about a girl rising to the pinnacle of equestrian accomplishment.

Social Issues
Old horse books are so often sexist and classist, but I've avoided commenting on it most of the time because I don't feel that it's always part of the review. But here, there are a couple of things that jump out at me. The misogyny of the eventing team's no-women policy is particularly ugly as it's mentioned that the dressage team is, even then, all female, and women are allowed on the Grand Prix (show jumping) team. And by today's standards, with Olympic equestrian teams frequently being all female, it's even more ridiculous. Ginny doesn't really fight, just changes her goal, which is realistic, true to her character and keeps the focus on horses, but is in some ways disappointing.

On a more horsey note, there is a point late in the book where Smoke Rings nearly goes down at the end of a course, and Ginny leaps off in automatic fear for her horse.

With no thought of anything but Smoke Rings, she vaulted from the saddle. In mid-air, she twisted in a convulsive effort to regain her seat, remembering too late that elimination was the penalty for dismounting without permission. Her beautiful round would not be counted toward the team's score, but, worse than that it left the United States with but three riders and no insurance against the unpredictable. Ginny was so crushed that she wished she could just evaporate into thin air and not have to face the coach, but squaring her shoulders she led her horse around the screen.

This regret comes before she really knows that Smoke Rings is okay. It's an interesting scene, given the controversy that's erupted in recent years over equine breakdowns and when or whether a rider has pulled up in competition. One of the most discussed breakdowns was the death of Le Samurai at the 2007 Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event. The horse, ridden by Amy Tryon, was approaching the final fence on the course when the horse's stride changed. Tryon later said she felt it, but thought it was just minor. She continued riding to the fence, over, finished the course, and only then pulled up and dismounted. She faced almost instant criticism, as the horse's 'bobble' had been so visible at this very high-profile competition, and various video of it filled the internet's horsey circles. In that devastating way horses have, Le Samurai had become badly injured from one step to the next, and he was euthanized when it was determined his chances of survival were slim. There was an outcry against Tryon for not pulling up before the final fence. The FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale) ruled that her not pulling up before the final fence constituted abuse, and suspended and fined her. A different situation from the fictional Smoke Rings nearly falling after the last fence (I think there would have been less anger in the Tryon case if the bobble had come after the fence, and Tryon had only pushed him a bit further on the flat, as landing after a jump is very stressful on a horse's legs), but the same basic issue, which in Lyons book seems to place the team's success ahead of the individual health of a horse.

Smoke Rings - 17h dappled iron grey Thoroughbred gelding
Java Jive
Sugarfoot - Java's dam
Gray Friar


Other books by Author
Silver Birch (1939)
Midnight Moon (1941)
Golden Sovereign (1946)
Red Embers (1948)
Harlequin Hullabaloo/Bluegrass Champion (1949)
Copper Khan (1950)
Dark Sunshine (1951)
Blue Smoke (1953)
Java Jive (1955)
Bright Wampum (1958)
Pedigree Unknown (1973)

Other Information about the Author
was originally from Michigan, but lived most of her life in California. Her first two books revolved around friends in a mounted Girl Scout troop in Michigan, then the action moved West. She bred Connemaras. Lyons also wrote an autobiographical work, The Devil Made The Small Town (1983). Wesley Dennis illustrated nearly all her horse books.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pony Farm

Pony Farm
Paul Brown, writer and illustrator
1948, Charles Scribner's & Sons

Lucky kids Bud and Lynn live next door to a farm that raises Shetland ponies, and owner Mrs. Marian allows them to come over and ride and watch the foals. One foal in particular, the spectacularly marked Half 'n Half. The colt of head broodmare Snowflake, he has many adventures which are fully illustrated, from chasing frogs to running with other foals to getting into trouble.

Slight story, charming drawings.

Mickey "Matchless Michael of the Titans" - black stallion
Snowflake - white broodmare (32" at the withers)
Half 'n Half - black and white foal (18" at the withers, 27lbs)
The Pest - orphaned filly
Molly - foster mother to The Pest
Fuss Budget - cautious broodmare
Brenda - Fuss Budget's foal

Other Animals
Joshua - black cat
Deuce - Dalmation
Trey - Dalmation
Charlotte - donkey
Prince Charming - goat

Other Books by Author (writing; Brown illustrated far more)
Crazy Quilt: Circus Pony
Mick And Mac
War Paint
Sparkie And Puff Ball
Pony School
Draw Horses

About the Author
Subject of a biography Paul Brown: Master of Equine Art by
M.L. Biscotti.