Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Patsey Gray, il. Sam Savitt
1959, Coward-McCann

Eleven-year-old Ellie Sayre is living the horse-mad child's dream, travelling the West Coast with her trainer grandfather riding horses in shows. Her favorite horse is Challenger, an equitation horse who she and her grandfather have patiently retrained from an abused creature to a happy and successful h/j competitor. Grandpa's newest client is the pretty and dramatic Pamela Morton, who has talent and a beautiful mare, Night Flight, but lacks drive and has a slightly sketchy work ethic that clashes immediately with Grandpa's strictness. She and Ellie compete in the junior Medal classes, accumulating points toward the big national class held in New York each year.

Gray's ability to write the reader into the book - her heroines are all horse-crazy, exulting even in the most mundane or awful of horse-related tasks - is at its height here. Exacting details of caring for the horses, of riding, of coaching, of showing, are horse madness at its very finest.

In common with most of Gray's books, all the action and youthful spirit is feminine, but the older generation is mostly male. Grandpa, the vet, Pam's cousin, the judge - all men, and all varying degrees of obnoxious to the girls who are doing 99% of the work. Mrs. Sampson, a woman who inexplicably has a thing for Grandpa despite being younger and less horse-crazy, is a bit of a joke, and Pam's cousin treats his wife with a condescending tolerance that makes me want to bite the page out of the book.

While some of my favorite Savitt drawings are of his standing horses, his forte was making realistic, powerful drawings of horses in the extreme positions of jumping, falling, spooking, etc.
Here, he takes full advantage of a dramatic plot to do some of his best.

Challenger - chestnut gelding with 4 white stockings and a diamond
Night Flight - black mare

Other Books
Jumping Jack
Double Standards
Heads Up!
Galloping Gold
Horse In Her Heart
Doggone Roan
Loco The Bronc
4-H Horse
Diving Horse
The Horse Trap
Show Ring Rogue
The Mysterious Buckskin
Star Bright
Star Lost

News 4/28/09

Rolex Results
Australian rider Lucinda Fredericks and her 15.3 TB cross Headley Britannia win the 2009 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. Second went to Germany's Bettina Hoy and Ringwood Cockatoo, and third went to Buck Davidson and My Boy Bobby.
Story on the USEA website.

Sadly, another horse died at Rolex this year. Kingpin, ridden by Mike Winter, died of natural causes on cross-country.

Story on the USEA website

The Polo Ponies

An overdose of a mineral called selenium caused the deaths of 21 polo ponies in Florida last week, according to the pharmacy that incorrectly mixed a drug meant to alleviate exhaustion, and which instead caused h
emorrhaging in the horse's lungs.

This story in last Thursday's Washington Post is chilling, describing a scene where the first horse dies before trainers can even get the trailer open, and veterinarians dressed to mingle at a prestigious polo event struggle to understand and reverse the catastrophic collapse of horse after horse.

Barbaro Statue
A statue of Barbara, the bay colt who
drew world-wide attention in 2006 both for winning the Kentucky Derby in a style that excited hopes of a Triple Crown and for his Preakness accident and struggle to recover from a shattered leg, was unveiled at Churchill Downs on Sunday, April 26. Barbaro's owners, Gretchen and Roy Jackson, and trainer Michael Matz were at the dedication of the statue.

AP story and the website of sculptor Alexa King.

Derby News
Two horses slated to run in Saturday's Kentucky Derby have been scratched due to injuries. Quality Road, an Elusive Quality colt, has suffered a quarter crack on a front hoof, while Square Eddie has suffered a shin injury.

Joe Talamo, the somewhat unlikeable star of Animal Planet's series Jockeys is still only a teenager but he's got a mount in the Derby, a colt named I Want Revenge.
Photos on the blog Rock and Racehorses of IWR and Talamo winning the Gotham Stakes last month.

Derby TV
A special called “Run for the Roses; The Kentucky Derby and the Business of Horse Racing" will air on CNBC on Thursday at 9pm.

The cable channel Bravo will air the Kentucky Oaks on Friday at 5pm.
Website for the Kentucky Oaks

A New York Daily News story on safety in Thoroughbred racing, in which trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. maintains his reputation.

A filly called Raspberry Miss died of shock in a freak accident at Churchill Downs when a runaway colt plowed into her. Graphic video at Backporch.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Boxcar Children: The Secret Horse (1993)

There is a subspecies of horse book in the regular children's book, often a series, which has a horse plot. Much like a film with a horse plot, these books are usually terrible. But they have a horse on the cover, so what choice do horse-crazy children really have? In this case, they'd be better off reading the original book in the series, The Boxcar Children, which is a classic.

The Boxcar Children - The Mystery Horse (#34)
created by Gertrude Chandler Warner, il. Charles Tang
1993, Scholastic

There was a scuffling noise, and suddenly Mr. Morgan emerged from the stall, leading a beautiful chestnut-colored horse. The horse was tall and slender, and it pranced gracefully with its head held high.

The Alden family visits a farm called Sunny Oaks, where Benny and Jessie learn to make preserves, Henry unloads hay and the entire family investigates the mysterious horse being kept hidden in a back barn.

Another installment of the Boxcar Children series, with only mild horsey aspects. The drawings throughout are strangely unprofessional, but the writing is adequate. The plotting and action are slow, the characters uninspired. The writer clearly knows the basics - there are detailed descriptions of activities like cooking and eating, but the writing fails to make them work.

After the peaches were peeled and crushed, Benny added lots of sugar, a little lemon juice, and some candied ginger. Jessie added a package of pectin to make the jam thicken, and stirred the big pot on the stove.

The horse aspects are fairly unrealistic - the horse in hiding is a racehorse, presumably a stallion, being ridden at night by a farmer and led at the end by a little girl.

Wind Dancer/Star - 16h chestnut Thoroughbred

Information about the series
Gertrude Chandler Warner wrote the first 19 books. She died in 1979, and the series was resurrected in 1991 as The Boxcar Children Mysteries.

Book Links
Series originator Gertrude Chandler Warner lived in Putnam, Conneticut, which now operates a museum - fittingly, inside a red boxcar - of her life.

The series is owned by the Albert Whitman & Company publishers

Memorial Held In Florida For 21 Polo Ponies

A memorial is to be held this evening for the 21 polo ponies from a Venezuelan team who collapsed and died, one after the other, shortly before the start of a match in the U.S. Open Polo Championship at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington on Sunday. A pharmacy in Ocala now says it made a mistake in preparing medication for the horses.

CBS 12
New York Times

United States Polo Association
International Polo Club Palm Beach

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event (April 23-26)

I'm always taken off guard by late April, and the sudden explosion of horse events, both locally and nationally. On the national level, two of America's great horse competitions, the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event (April 23-26) and the Kentucky Derby (May 2), take place in the next two weeks. More about the Derby later.

One year from now, the Kentucky Horse Park will host the first World Equestrian Game to be held outside Europe. Tomorrow, 54 of the world's best eventers will be getting a sneak peak of the place. Many of them will already be familiar with the facility, home of America's upper-level eventing since 1978, and the nation's only **** event since 1998. My sentimental favorite every year is the English rider William Fox-Pitt, not simply because he's one of the big names of the sport but also because he's so tall. Not all riders are jockey-sized, but it does seem that many riders are somewhat compact, and it's fascinating to watch someone who looks all legs succeed so fantastically at one of the most demanding equine sports.

The dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping of Rolex can be seen in a variety of ways by those unlucky enough not to be able to be there in Lexington for America's only four-star event.
You can view everything live or on-demand online here for a fee. You can also see just the stadium jumping free online at Universal Sports Network live on Sunday, April 26 starting at 2:00 PM (eastern). Lastly, a one-hour program of Rolex will air on NBC on May 3, at 5:00 PM (eastern), assuming the Stanley Cup semifinals game ahead of it doesn't run over.

Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event
William Fox-Pitt's Website
Phillip Dutton's Website

Copper Khan (1950)

Copper Khan
Dorothy Lyons, il. Wesley Dennis
1950, Harcourt, Brace

Connemara "Connie" McGuire is home from college for the summer and back at her habit of collecting unwanted horses and bringing them from wrecks to glory. This time she's purchased, for $1, a glorious chestnut colt with a broken leg. She recalls a daring new method for treating a broken leg, and the long shot comes in, leaving her with a new headache. The Thoroughbred colt is a constant problem for her stallion, Golden Sovereign. But new hired man Tom Monro has a suggestion; he says the colt is good enough for another try at racing.

If you're going to throw reality out the window, why not go all the way? Connie has a dream life and a dream stable, so why not a dream storyline with a champion racehorse? Note, I'm not criticizing. All horse stories are mad dreams to some extent, this one just goes whole hog.

Wesley Dennis is limited to mostly small pictures, and suffers. A glorious cover, though it reveals his tendency to draw human faces as either very young or very old.

Copper Khan - chestnut colt, Thoroughbred
Golden Sovereign - palomino stallion
Waltz Dream - chestnut mare
Silver Birch - grey mare
Midnight Moon - black mare
Lady - chestnut mare

Other books
Golden Sovereign (also in Connemara McGuire series)
Java Jive (also in Connemara McGuire series)
Midnight Moon (also inConnemara McGuire series)
Blue Smoke
Bright Wampum
Dark Sunshine
Red Embers
Smoke Rings

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blaze And The Gray Spotted Pony
C.W. Anderson
1968, The Macmillan Company

Tommy loves horses, and always gets toys for his birthday. He watches his neighbor Billy ride his pony Blaze and wishes for a pony of his own. One day, he spots a little grey pony and tells his father he'd like a pony just like that for his birthday. His father secretly asks Billy to help him find just such a pony.

By 1968, Anderson's style had changed dramatically. The lines of human faces and horse legs had become shadows, and the whole effect is much more natural and gentle. These are Anderson's iconic horses, all soft, glossy coats and melting dark eyes. The grey spotted pony's coloring seems a little odd, though that may just be the effect of Anderson's charcoal technique. The book's first pages are heavily human, with few horses, but the drawing of little Tommy playing with horse models is charming. What horse-hungry child hasn't done this?

Blaze - bay pony with four socks and a blaze
Dusty - gray spotted pony (is named in later books)

Other Books by Anderson
Billy And Blaze books
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

Other Books (picture)
A Pony For Linda
The Crooked Colt
Pony For Three
Lonesome Little Colt

Other Books
High Courage
The Horse of Hurricane Hill
Afraid To Ride
Phantom, Son Of The Gray Ghost
A Filly For Joan
Great Heart
Another Man O'War
The Outlaw

Other Books (nonfiction)
Tomorrow’s Champions
Horses Are Folks
The Smashers
Heads Up, Heels Down
Deep Through The Heart
Twenty Gallant Horses
Complete Book Of Horses And Horsemanship

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pat Rides The Trail (1946)

Pat Rides The Trail
Genevieve Torrey Eames, il. Dan Noonan
1946, Julian Messner, Inc.

After moving from Boston to her uncle's Vermont farm, Pat Carey buys the little bay mare West Wind at auction and enters her in the 100-Mile Trail Ride. Can Pat overcome bad luck, nerves and a malicious competitor to finish the ride?

West Wind was sailing along at a hand gallop. It was near the end of a fifteen-mile trip and she seemed as fresh and eager as when she had started out that morning.

An unusual topic - an endurance ride - and an unusual heroine in that 14-year-old Pat is oblivious to romance and unusually sensitive to her little brother. The story is quick and energetic, and the details are sublimely horsey.

She felt lost and small; then the familiar sounds of horses stamping in their stalls and munching hay reassured her. Owners hurried about, carrying pails of water, rubbing down gleaming satin coats, cleaning 'tack' and stopping to chat with each other.

But the best part is the ride itself, when Pat finds herself alone with her mare on a rainy, boggy trail.

Pat was on her own now, on her own and facing the hardest part of the ride. She followed the blue arrow and found herself in a narrow, overgrown road that was hardly more than a trail. Branches loaded with water hung down and showered Pat's face and head no matter how low she ducked... The trail climbed and twisted and West Wind had to dig her toes into the soft earth and scramble up as best she could. At long intervals Pat saw blue arrows pointing the way; if it had not been for them, she would have thought she was lost.

Clearly a dated book, with her uncle's workhorses and her ability to ride through town safely, but a good one.

West Wind - bay mare
Janie - Shetland pony
Russet - mare

Other books by the author
A Horse To Remember (1946) il. Paul Brown
The Good Luck Colt (1953) il. Paul Brown
Flying Roundup (1957) il. Lorence J. Bjorklund
Ghost Town Cowboy (1951) il Paul Brown
Handy Of The Triple S (1949) il. Paul Brown

Short Stories by Author
"Jarvis Discovers Gold" appears in the anthology Horses, Horses, Horses: Palominos And Pintos, Polo Ponies And Plow Horses, Morgans And Mustangs edited by Phyllis Fenner

About the Illustrator
Also illustrated Good Housekeeping's Best Book of Horse Stories (1958)
I'm not 100% sure this is the same man, but an artist named Dan Noonan worked on comics for Western Publishing 1942-1951. He later went on to work on Disney animation films.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Colonel And Me

The Colonel And Me
John W. Chambers
1985, Atheneum some miracle my left foot sank home in the dangling stirrup at just that instant. I held onto the pommel, attempting to get my balance and preparing for the next mighty effort.

"Are you going to stand there all day?"

Augusta "Gussie" McPherson is under orders by her social-climbing mother to learn to ride at the stable of former U.S. Army colonel Alexi Meslenko, who lends "hardass" a new level of granite. Gussie, a distinctly modern teen, scorns her mother's pretentions and regards the matter warily while her little brother Sandy attacks the lessons with enthusiasm. But their positions switch as Gussie grows interested in the sport and Sandy comes up against failure for the first time in his pampered existence. It doesn't hurt that Meslenko has a cute godson who also rides.

This bit of horsey lit takes place in the center of the northern New Jersey hunter/jumper establishment, where monied parents buy expensive show horses for their children and stern equestrians have to be as skilled with handling overbearing adults as at teaching equitation to their offspring. The tone is outdated - a very 1960's or 1970's dialogue - part of the time, and the rest of the time it has a faintly British air to it.

In one central scene, a girl has a complete meltdown in a class and rails against domineering Colonel Meslenko:

Maybe the rest of the kids think you're God Almighty, but I don't. I've had teachers a lot better than you. No responsible teacher would put a girl on a horse like that. You're a self-centered egomaniac, and I for one have had more than enough of you! You can take your stupid little riding school and flush it!

Gussie, who just chapters earlier would have been this girl, now sits silently with the rest of the class as the colonel lectures them at length about what the girl, now departed, had done wrong. At the very end, though, she observes that although the colonel was right in what he did (putting the girl on a rough horse), the girl was right too - he was too rough on her.

At the end, Gussie attends her first horse show. In her summer of lessons, she's gone from a complete newbie to jumping 3'6" a feat mentioned with a snicker in some horsey conversations about favorite children's books. Some of the action seems questionable - Gussie constantly refers to kicking her horses forward, and there is a lot of emphasis on gripping with the knees - but some of it rings true. The moment Gussie loses confidence in a jump, the clever grey schoolhorse Nursemaid quits on her. Their argument about going over the fence is summed up in one of the few scenes in a horsey book to show the rider using physical force:

Tightening the reins, I kicked her into a canter, my eyes fixed on the spot where I had calculated we would become airborne. When we reached it, I gave her a tremendous kick, slapping her on the rump with my hand for good measure.

They sail over, though I'd quibble about the idea of a horse 'gliding' to a landing.

Nursemaid - gray mare schoolhorse
Moonbeam - bay gelding schoolhorse
Lilly Val - gray mare
Hedgehopper - dark bay Thoroughbred gelding with three white stockings
Miss Tish - chestnut Thoroughbred mare with white blaze, four stockings
Myshkin - black Thoroughbred gelding

Other Books
Footlight Summer (1983)
Fire Island Forfeit (1984)
Fritzi's Winter (1979)
Finder (1981)
Showdown At Apple Hill (1983)

About the Author
There is a history professor of the same name at Rutgers and although the world of horsey fiction for kids seems remote from the the world of scholarly works on American history, the name is identical and the location is right; The Colonel And Me is set in northern New Jersey, several of the books above are set in New York, and Rutgers is in north-central New Jersey. And both appear to have had books published by Atheneum. So I believe there's a good chance they're the same person.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Mule Day!

Yesterday was the final day of the 2009 celebration of Mule Day in Columbia, Tennessee. A deceased horse trainer got his final wish to ride in the parade when his ashes were carried on a mule-drawn wagon. A thunderstorm scattered attendees. A mule spooked into a vendor cart during the parade, causing some scratches to a child riding on his wagon. Logs were hauled in competition. And an old Mule Day veteran, Martha, was missed on the first celebration since her death last year. Mule Day's Queen this year was Rachael Ethridge, a 21-year-old Susan Lucci of the contest who won in this, her final year of eligibility.

News Stories
Man Gets Last Wish to Ride in Mule Day Parade
Mule Spooks
Log-Hauling Competition
Martha Missed
Mule Day Queen

Other Mule News
A retired Tennessee man (of course) is driving his mules, Mack and Jack, out to Phoenix to see his sister. Accompanying them is a Blue Tick Heeler named Britt. They have a website chronicling their adventures.

And here, because I am slightly more prepared with American events than British, is a perfectly on-topic review.

Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley
Marguerite Henry, il. Bonnie Shields
1996, Simon & Schuster

Tennessee girl Molly is devastated when her happy-go-lucky father buys her an old mare at auction instead of one of the shiny foals who would be as impressive as Freddy Westover's Tennessee Walking Horses. She slowly becomes inured to the reality that Pops really bought the horse for himself, and even becomes interested in the slow rehab of Lady Sue. But her enthusiasm only returns when Lady Sue has a surprise for them - she gives birth to a baby mule.

It seems a bit odd that Molly spends the first three chapters in a snit because her dad doesn't buy her a breathing Breyer, but instantly loves the idea of owning a mule. It seems even more odd that she takes almost no role in raising the mule - her dad and Freddy and a neighbor do all the work and Molly seems like an afterthought. But when Brown Sunshine is named the King Mule for Columbia's annual Mule Day parade, Molly reappears as she dresses like a princess to ride on the float with him.

It feels wrong to say anything bad about Henry, who was one of the classic American writers of horse books. But Henry's major flaw even as far back as Misty was her sexism. Beyond an accounting of how many times a boy gets to do something exciting in her books v. the number of times a girl does, there's just a lack of interest that's almost palpable in Henry when it comes to female characters. She tries, but the enthuasiasm just isn't there.

On the positive side, Henry never misses some tricks, and she knows how horse-loving and horseless children feel about their thwarted desires:

I get sick whenever I look at a person riding a horse and acting so smug and happy at being up there. I just want to crawl under a rock and cry.

Although it's easy to miss Wesley Dennis's illustrations, Bonnie Shields does a wonderful job.

Lady Sue - sorrel mare, possibly Arab/TB cross
Smokestack - Weimaraner dog
Brown Sunshine - mule
Strolling Joe - Tennesee Walking Horse gelding
Royal Gift - Spanish jack sent to George Washington

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

Columbia, Tennessee Mule Day
Mule Day

About Mule Day
Begun in 1840 as a meeting for mule breeders, this annual event now lasts several days and is a celebration of Appalachian crafts and food as well. In 2010, the event will be held April 8-11. For old photos of past Mule Days (including a 1949 King Mule named Brown's Sunshine), see Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Mon Mome Wins Grand National

A longshot wins the English classic. As I have no relevant reviews ready, here's a list of Grand National stories, fiction and non-fiction. My heart's always belonged, a little bit, to the first American horse to win the race, Man O'War's short (15.2) chestnut colt Battleship. Another American winner was Jay Trump, a flat racing reject who went on to win the Maryland Hunt Cup three times, and the Grand National in 1965. He was buried at the Kentucky Horse Park, at the finish line of the steeplechase course.

National Velvet by Enid Bagnold
Free Rein by K.M. Peyton
Pilot, The Chaser by H.M. Peel

The Sport Of Queens: The Autobiography of Dick Francis by Dick Francis
The Grand National: A History Of The Aintree Spectacular by Stewart Peters
An Aintree Dynasty: The Tophams And Their Grand National by John Pinfold
The Grand National: Aintree's Official Illustrated History by Reg Green
From Aintree To York: Racing Around Britain by Stephen Cartmell
Jenny Pitman: The Autobiography by Jenny Pitman
Twenty Gallant Horses by C.W. Anderson (includes Battleship, winner of the 1938 race)

National Velvet
Grand National Night

National Velvet television series
National Velvet Boardgame (based on series)

Times Online
The Grand National
Aintree Racecourse
Youtube of the 2009 Race
Youtube of the 1965 Race
National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame - Battleship
Thoroughbred Heritage - Battleship

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Crazy Quilt, Circus Pony

Crazy Quilt, Circus Pony: The Story of a Piebald Pony
Paul Brown, author and illustrator
1934, Charles Scribner's Sons

His coat shining like satin, he stepped into the ring. The first trick was the game of leap frog that he played with Flap Foot. First the pony knelt while the clown jumped over him. The Flap Foot bent over and Crazy Quilt jumped, taking great care not to touch his master as he did so.

A curiously speckled pinto pony finds a new home in the circus in the act of Flap Foot, a clown, and a new family when Flap Foot (actually Mr. Perkins) takes the act home for a vacation with his three children. Pam and Peter share Crazy Quilt and the donkey Oscar, while their little brother Piper takes the two dogs, Mick and Mac, and have a fun time riding and creating new acts for the four animals.

Bareback riding looked easy when one saw it in the circus ring. The twins soon found out that it was not as easy as it seemed. Peter learned that his shoes would not grip Crazy Qio;t's sleek hide. Pam discovered that even though the grassy pasture looked soft it was really very hard. They fell off on one side of the pony and they fell off on the other. The first trick riding was not a success.

Paul Brown's quality illustrations enliven a fairly meandering, unfocused book which generally looks at a circus family at home, and the fun they have with their highly trained animals.

Oscar is called a donkey but looks like a mule (although a mule which is about the same size as the Irish Wolfhound) and Brown's illustrations are inconsistent on which is taller, the pony or the donkey/mule. Crazy Quilt's markings are unusual - almost appaloosa spots on a basic pinto background.

Crazy Quilt - 5-year-old black and white pinto gelding pony
Oscar - donkey
Patchwork - pinto Shetland pony

Mick - Irish Wolfhound
Mac - Scottish Terrier

Other books by Author
Piper’s Pony (1935)
Pony Farm (1948)
Pony School (1950)
Sparkie And Puff Ball (1954)
Daffy Taffy (1955)