Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Horse To Love
Nancy Springer
1987, Harper & Row

Erin Calahan is shy and a loner at school, but somehow when she is spotted, gazing longingly into the pastures, by the crotchety owner of a Morgan horse farm nearby, she musters the courage to speak. And eccentric Lexie Bromer unexpectedly agrees to teach her to ride. When Erin talks her father into letting her buy a horse, Lexie finds her a grey mare who Erin renames Spindrift. Erin's estatic, but reality quickly hits. Spindrift is a sensible sort of horse, and suitable as a mount, but she's also cranky, what horse people call 'mareish' and doesn't appear to have read the same books about loving, affectionate horses.

A warm feeling filled her, and she suddenly reached up and rubbed the mare's neck just behind her ears. Horses were supposed to like having their necks and withers rubbed... Spindrift put all her feet down flat and swung her head away as far as the cross ties would allow.

I confess, I've never been a fan of Springer's books - they remind me of Lynn Hall in their solid plotting, strong characterization and dispiriting insistence on stolid reality - her characters always say 'cripes' and are jerked back to earth from any flights of fancy. More to the point, this drumming in of reality seems to cut off any chance for a fluid writing style. The style is very plain and very choppy. It doesn't invite.

I do love the way that plain, matter-of-fact style gives plenty of room to solid, realistic horsekeeping chores and riding issues. I believe it's the only horse book I've ever read to show the heroine cleaning a horse's dock and udder. And the handling scenes are a balm to anyone still bitter about Alec's effortless partnership with the Black.

Spindrift saw a patch of tall grass at the end of the lane and rushed ahead. Without having to think, Erin tightened her grip on the lead so as not to lose her horse. The chain drew snug under Spindrift's chin, and Erin remembered what to do next. She gave it a jerk. "Whoa!" she ordered, pronouncing it "ho," the way Aunt Lexie did.

And, after the barn-sour mare bolts dangerously toward her stall, the author actually applies the crop;

It took ten minutes. Spindrift moved once the crop was in Erin's hand - she had seen it. But she scooted backward, danced sideways, balked and spun in her efforts to stay by the barn. Once forced near the ring, she refused the gate until Erin sent her through with a hard kick, a lick, and a yell. Erin had never fought with a horse before, and the whole process was against her way of thinking that the horse should be her friend, friend, friend.

Another thing - I love the description of Erin's bedroom:

There was a green-ribcord spread on the bed, a big Sam Savitt poster of all the horse breeds on the wall above it, a complete paperback set of all the Black Stallion stories on the bookshelf, and a herd of Breyer model horses, small ones collected over a dozen birthdays and Christmases, on the dresser...

This, plus about 500 other books, pretty much sums up my girlhood bedroom as well. Did any of the horse-mad of certain generations not have the Savitt poster?

William - red roan grade gelding (QH mix?)
Bianca/Spindrift - grey mare

Other books
Not On A White Horse (1988)
They're All Named Wildfire (1989)
Colt (1991)
The Great Pony Hassle (1993)
The Boy On A Black Horse (1994)
Sky Rider (1999)

Springer is also included in the anthology Horses, edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois

About the Author
Springer was born in 1948 in NJ. Her considerable output includes mysteries, adult and science fiction, but fantasy is the clear winner.

Sam Savitt poster of horse breeds
The American Morgan Horse Association
Breyer Horses website

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