Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saddle A Thunderbolt

Saddle A Thunderbolt

Jo Sykes, il. Jo Sykes (cover)

1967, Funk & Wagnalls

"I guess everybody's tried to catch him at one time or another... He's running with a wild sorrel mare, though, and I do mean wild. She's got a brand, but I bet she hasn't seen the inside of a corral in twenty years. Trying to trap her is about like trying to catch rainwater with a sieve. And Rival's become just like her."

A year after his rancher father broke his back, 17-year-old Bruce Hubbard is alone on the failing family spread. His dad's having another operation, his mother is keeping him company and his brothers are tending their own families. It's up to Bruce to keep the place going in the meantime, but he has a string of bad luck. First he loses the family's prized racehorse, Buttermilk, whose reliable winning of the annual Cowboy Race each summer helped the ranch stay alive despite pressure from the neighboring Heart Seven Ranch to sell out. Then he has a fight witht he Heart Seven's owner, Ross Adams, and his spoiled son Wesley, over their attempts to capture the wild Arabian stallion Rival.

Rival lay less than fifty feet beyond the spring. The ground beneath the stallion was worn bare and looked as hard and smooth as a concrete sidewalk. The deadly lariat still encircled the once sleek neck. The hulk of Wesley's saddle lay in a clump of brush, lodged between two boulders.

Events bring Bruce into ownership of Rival, but he soon has cause to say "If things ever break right for me, I won't know how to act." Twists and turns put Bruce ever in hopes of having a mount for the race - but the mount keeps changing.

Very much a western, but more horse-oriented than many westerns. Injun and Old Sorrel, a cagey wild mare, are particularly vivid. Bruce makes a nice, stoic fledgling cowboy who, with the help of the slight but powerful cowboy Dandy, stands up to the truly unpleasant Adams clan and works to rescue the ranch.

Interesting training methods are used to break Geronimo of lashing out with his hind legs; I don't know how realistic or humane they are, but they're convincing. As is the need for some training.

The farmer took off his shapeless western hat and sailed it at the gelding's rump. Quick as lightning, the horse lashed out with both hind feet, stopped the hat in mid-air and slammed it back across the corral. "He doesn't just kick; he aims," Tucker said. "I believe he'd kill a man if he could."

Of course, it all comes down to a most unusual race.

Although relatively flat, it was not the kind of race course that would appeal to breeders of Thoroughbreds. Here and there the gravel of an old river bed came through the thin soil cover. Dry washes and scattered patches of brush created hazards known only to the range-bred horses.


Injun - black mare

Buttermilk - dun gelding

Pluto - bay gelding, pack horse

Bedouin Chief's Rival - 12-year-old bay Arabian stallion

Old Sorrel - sorrel mustang mare

Carousel - palomino gelding

Geronomio - 4-year-old buckskin gelding

Sundowner - 5-year-old

Sinner - sorrel gelding

Ben Blue - grey stallion

Little Bee - mare

Scamp - yellow shepherd dog

Other Books - horses

The Stubborn Mare 1957

Chip On His Shoulder 1961

Trouble Creek 1963

Other Books - dogs

Wolf Dog Of Ambush Canyon 1959

Leashed Lightning 1969

About the Author

Jo Sykes was born in American Falls, Idaho, and bought her first horse as a teenager. She worked as a cattle hand for ten years. She settled down near Livingston, Montana, where she was a a founding member of the Gallatin Dog Club and breeder of Smooth Fox Terriers.

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