Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pony Jungle (Lavinia R. Davis, 1941)

Pony Jungle
Lavinia R. Davis, il. Gordon Ross
1941, Doubleday & Company

She held her breath and turned Gray Mouse's head toward the outside of the circle. She got a good grip with her knees and then touched her inside heel to his side. "Come on, boy," she called. "Canter. Canter, now!"

At the start of the summer, 12-year-old Dibs Terrill is looking forward to meeting her new neighbors, two English children shipped to a wealthy relative to escape the war. Her 13-year-old brother, Josh, is less interested, being more or less completely absorbed in his study of nature around their rural Connecticut home. And 6-year-old Tommy is simply too young to understand. But Dibs's first meeting with the Edgemonts twins is a disaster. Rosemary is fat and dreamy, hardly the wan princess Dibs has imagined. And Patrick is cranky and aloof, far from the gallant Englishman of her dreams. And there are inevitable Anglo-American wrangles.

"I shouldn't bellow so were I you," Patrick said before the echo of Dibs's shrill voice had entirely vanished. Grand'mere doesn't like shrieking." Dibs gave one convulsive sniff at the idea of really calling anyone Grand'mere...

The other children have their own worries; Tommy is endlessly trying to keep up with the older kids, Josh senses his indifference to sports and riding disappoints his father, and the twins are both haunted by memories of bombings and harassed by a present where their only choice of companions is a grumpy old groom, their grandmother or a trio of somewhat annoying Americans.

Which is where the horses come in. When the pony Gray Mouse leads Dibs into a hobo camp, her idea of making their own version creates a connection with the Brits for the first time, and the kids become friends as they construct their very own hobo jungle, dubbed the pony jungle after Gray Mouse. Dibs and Patrick, in some ways natural enemies, bond over their shared love of horses and riding, while Rosemary and Josh happily continue their solitary pursuits of reading and nature study. There are various adventures, often involving the horses, and a standard mystery.

While the horse Barney and the pony Gray Mouse play a significant role in the story, it's more of a straightforward adventure tale than a horse story. There are chapters given over to a horse show, a foxhunt, and other horsey activities, but the bulk of the plot is about the friendships and activities of the humans. It's a very strong book, especially in the fleeting but powerful images of Patrick's confusion, upon waking, that the crash of trash cans outside are the bombs falling around his boarding school back in England.

Major - farm horse
Gray Mouse - grey pony
Barney - chestnut gelding

Poodles - Poodle
Tickles - Scottish Terrier
Royal - Great Dane

About the Author
Lavinia Riker Davis was born in New York City
According to the website, 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. This is available online at the Alexander Street Press's Social And Cultural History: Letters And Diaries Online.


Other books
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)
Hobby Horse Hill

Juvenile, non-horsey
Island City
Clown Dog
Round Robin
Americans Every One
Spinney And Spike And The B-29
It Happened On A Holiday
Adventures In Steel
Grab Bag
Skyscraper Mystery

Picture Books
Roger And The Fox
The Wild Birthday Cake
Danny's Luck
Summer Is Fun

Hearts In Trim
Janey's Fortune
A Sea Between
Come Be My Love
Stand Fast And Reply

Evidence Of Dragons
Threat Of Dragons
Barren Heritage
Taste Of Vengeance
Reference To Death

Anthologies featuring a story
Great Stories About Dogs
Flying Hoofs: Stories Of Horses

About the Illustrator
Gordon Ross (1873-1946)
Born in Scotland, he moved to San Francisco as a teen and studied at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute and worked on the San Francisco Chronicle. He moved to New York City, where he began illustrating books.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Goodbye Kate (1964)

Goodbye Kate
Billy C. Clark, il. Harold Eldridge
1964, G.P. Putnam's Sons

I felt like bragging that mule against something - something like a tractor. Wasn't a fair brag; a tractor was a dead thing, mute as a handful of old clay. It took a key instead of a heart to make it move. You couldn't make it happy or you couldn't make it sad.

Isaac is 14 when he meets Kate, a small and elderly mule cast off from her former owner and living by her wits in the summer tangles of the Kentucky hills. Lonely and not looking forward to starting school in 'the city,' Isaac happily befriends the clever equine, and the two have a good time sneaking corn from a neighbor's fields, swimming and generally wandering the woods.

They have a little trouble with the neighbor, Simm Johns, who hates all mules and is particularly irked at one who's learned to steal corn and conceal her thefts. Isaac's father manages that crisis, and Kate is saved. Until autumn. Isaac goes off to the town school, followed by a lonely mule. The ruckus that ensues lands Kate in jail, and Isaac in the position of being her lawyer.

And then I felt the softness touch the back of my neck. I felt the old head go into my arms. It was Kate, looking at me like I had come at last to take her home to the hills. Like it had been a long wait.

This largely autobiographical story from a regional author is a pleasant read which goes on slightly too long, but which convincingly portrays a rural, early 20th century childhood. Isaac is a mostly appealing narrator, and Kate is a very appealing mule.

The Jesse Stuart Foundation, a regional press, has reprinted all Clark's books.

Born in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, he maintained a lifelong loyalty to his home state, becoming a strongly regional writer.

Harold Eldridge is a familiar name from early editions of the Black Stallion books. He seems to have illustrated several of Clark's books.

Kentucky Authors

Riverboy 1958
A Long Row To Hoe 1960
Song Of The River 1960
Champion of Sourwood Mountain 1966
Sourwood Tales 1968
By Way Of The Forked Stick
Miss America Kissed Caleb

The Trail Of The Hunter's Horn 1957
Mooneyed Hound 1958
Useless Dog 1961

Creeping From Winter
To Leave My Heart In Catlettsburg

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Horse For Claudia And Dennis (1958)

A Horse For Claudia And Dennis

Natlee Kenoyer and Rutherford Montgomery

1958, Duell, Sloan And Pearce

"There's something about the love for a horse that stays with you."

12-year-old Claudia and 14-year-old Dennis have been working for a year to save the money to buy a horse, and now that their parents have bought a 1-acre property, their dreams come true. But before Uncle Tom takes them shopping, he makes them fix up the place, and the children quickly learn that owning a horse isn't all riding and goofing around.

A plain, straightforward book with plenty of information about keeping and riding horses. The children learn to ride Blaze, and compete with him in two Western shows, while working hard at odd jobs to earn his keep. When a jealous neighbor boy steals Blaze, they even make a new friend, who gets a pony of his own. Uncle Tom, who stands in for their father (away serving in the military) is a gentle, patient teacher, and the sibling squabbles are convincing without being nasty. Best of all, they manage to create a decent living space for their horse with spare lumber and materials, for an unusually DIY approach.

The illustrations are unusual, being rather basic, but the illustrator, Carol Wetmore, was only a teenager at the time of their execution.


Blaze - chestnut gelding with blaze and 3 stockings

Speck - black and white pony gelding

Other books by Kenoyer


The Moon God's Daughter (1974)
Claudia's Five-Dollar Horse (1960)


The Western Horse: A Handbook (1962)

Gymkhana Games (1972)

The Firehorses Of San Francisco (1970)

Three Children And A Firehorse (1969)

Other books by Montgomery


Big Red: A Wild Stallion

El Blanco, The Legend Of The White Stallion

Midnight, Wild Stallion Of The West

Crazykill Range

The Capture Of The Golden Stallion (aka The Golden Stallion)

The Golden Stallion's Revenge

The Golden Stallion To The Rescue

The Golden Stallion's Victory

The Golden Stallion And The Wolf Dog

The Golden Stallion's Adventure At Redstone

The Golden Stallion And The Mysterious Feud



Yellow Eyes

Pekan The Shadow


The Living Wilderness

A Kinkajou On The Town

Seecatch: The Story Of A Fur Seal

Hill Ranch

Jets Away!

A Saddlebag Of Tales (editor)

The Defiant Heart

Killdeer House

Gray Wolf
Ghost Town Adventure

McNulty's Holiday



High Country


Kent Barstow

Yankee Flier

About the authors

Natlee Kenoyer


Former president of the Western Writers of America, an organization which promotes Western-themed literature and gives out the Spur Awards each year.

Rutherford Montgomery


Montgomery was a prolific writer of juvenile fiction set in the West with wild animals and horses as major characters, using his own name plus several pen names. He was a writer for Disney, and The Capture Of The Golden Stallion was made into a 1959 film, Mustang! and El Blanco was based on a Disney movie.

Links - Kenoyer

Western Writers of America

de Grummond collection

Links - Montgomery

de Grummond collection

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bright Wampum (1958)

Bright Wampum

Dorothy Lyons, il. Wesley Dennis (jacket, frontspiece)

1958, Harcourt, Brace & Company

To horse-hungry Merry, the mare was perfection from her dainty head with its white arrowhead mark to her sinewy legs and well-muscled quarters. Her white glistened brighter than the others', while the sharply marked bay spots were perfect circles. They ranged in size from dimes to dollars, as if a handful of coins carelessly tossed into the air had fallen across the mare's white rump patch.

Meredith 'Merry' Moore and her family are in the midst of moving from Nebraska to California (whose climate, it is hoped, will cure sickly younger sister Anita) when they break down on the Big Sur coast. Merry, who had spent time riding bucking horses back home, quickly finds a herd of Appaloosas near the cabin where they spend the night, and bonds with the beautiful mare she dubs Bright Wampum.

A Western to balance all of Lyons' show jumping stories, this one somehow gets lost in a maze of a mystery regarding the ranch and a Native American tribe. But toward the end it gets back on track as Merry is torn between a career with the rodeo and a more normal life, and the owner of their rented ranch returns to claim his horses.

Merry trains several horses, including the frustrating Black Penny and her own Wampum, and the sequences involving horse care and training are satisfying.

Merry brushed and buffed until the bright bay coat and spotted 'blanket' threw the sun back in her eyes.


Bright Wampum - bay/white Appaloosa mare

Sachem - black/white Appaloosa stallion

Queen of Spades - black mare


Rawhide - buckskin

Black Penny - black/white Appaloosa mare

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)
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, August 11, 2009

Horse news

Since it was the big harness weekend just past, all the images today will be of harness horses. Please note, all photos are taken from the book The Light Horse Breeds by John W. Patten.

Thoroughbred Racing

Rachel Alexandra blew away the colts again at the Haskell Invitations at Monmouth Park on August 2. The race can be seen here.

Below: Another great filly, Rosalind, star of Marguerite Henry's Born To Trot.

The famous Fasig-Tipton auction is under way in Saratoga Springs, New York. The auction, which lasts through today, is viewable online.

The 1945 Hambletonian winner Titan Hanover, as a stallion.

Harness Racing
Muscle Hill won the 2009 Hambletonian at The Meadowlands (NJ is having a very good racing month) on August 8. It was a stakes record and his 13th straight win. It can be seen here.

Shadow Play, the winner of last year's Little Brown Jug, won the U.S. Pacing Championship at The Meadowlands on the same day. It can be seen here.

It's interesting how harness racing has a much lower profile than Thoroughbred racing. Big Brown's feet became a subject of debate last year, but it wasn't until I noticed the pacing story that I heard anything about Shadow Play's hoof problems.

The 1935 Hambletonian winner, Greyhound.

Other News
The J4S Equine Nursery in Australia is suffering an outbreak of the Hendra virus. The virus was first found in 1994; of the three people found infected with it back then, two died. This time, so far at least one horse, an Anglo-Arab filly named Jackowah's Regal Princess, has died and the people on the farm are understandably worried about their own health. Story here and here.

South Florida horses being killed for meat in their own pastures? At least 19 horses appear to have been butchered illicitly by thieves in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Thoroughbred breeder Ernie Paragallo has been indicted for neglecting horses on his New York farm. Photos of the horses, which are described as emaciated and suffering from parasites and infections, are available at the Columbia-Green Humane Society. The property, Center Brook Farm, has been in the news since April, along with the Paragallo family's Thoroughbred facility, Paraneck Stable.

And the latest in the trend of big city police departments pressured to cut their mounted units, Baltimore is faced with raising $200,000 before September to feed their 6 horses. Boston lost it's horses this spring. Philadelphia, which eliminated the mounted unit in 2004, is supposedly hoping to resurrect it once the city's economic situation improves.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Romance novels for a sweltering night

And now, because it's filthy hot and so humid the wallpaper behind me is dark with sweat and peeling away from the plaster walls - a little diversion. I happily admit to reading anything - mysteries, picture books, literature, chick lit, westerns, scifi, fantasy, romance - if it's text-based, I read it. So I read and enjoy romance novels sometimes. It wasn't until I started riding, however, that I discovered the best way to enjoy romance novels is to search out egregious horsey mistakes. I am far from an expert at horse stuff, so if my quibbles are unjustified, please feel free to shoot me an email to explain where I went wrong.

Above, I don't even want to get into exactly how our heroine is sitting aboard that horse. My question concerns the reins; clearly, there is only one and it is crossed under the horse's chin.

This brave native person appears to be holding reins in his right hand, but these are the reins to nowhere. Admirable torso, but where'd the bridle go?

And a real review of a romance novel, using a far snarkier approach than usual just for a change of pace.

Leaping Hearts

Jessica Bird

2002, Ivy Books (Ballantine - Random House)

A.J. Sutherland was captivated by the stallion from the moment she saw him. And she wasn't the only one. Like believers in front of a hypnotist, the whole audience was under a spell and had the dreamlike eyes of zombies. Called by the master to come forward, the crowd moved like a glacier, pushing its way toward the auctioneer's stand and bulging out of the cordoned-off area where the horse was displayed.

Hypnotists, zombies and glaciers - that's a heck of a lot of similies and metaphors to throw at an innocent reader in the very first paragraph.

A.J. Sutherland buys the 4-year-old black Thoroughbred stallion Sabbath for a whopping $30,000, defending her rashness to her stepbrother Peter (the financial side of their wealthy father's hobby-turned-serious show barn) by saying he has good bloodlines. Peter points out that the horse's reputation is very, very bad - he has shown talent at jumping, but also at ridding himself of his rider and terrorizing any human nearby. No sooner has Peter said this than Sabbath shakes loose of his five (five!) handlers in the auction ring and bolts through the crowd, chasing people. Among them is Devlin McCloud, a nationally famous rider who had an accident last year that killed his favorite horse and left him with a shattered leg. Devlin and A.J. spot each other and mentally swoon.

Outwardly, they carry on as usual - Devlin is surly and reclusive, A.J. is arguing with Peter.

Long story short, A.J. impusively leaves her father's barn - Sutherland - and shows up on Devlin's doorstep looking winsome and helpless. Devlin, who's been brooding about her all day, grudgingly lets her stay the night. After some perfunctory fencing, the two establish that he will coach her in training the difficult horse, and prepare them for the huge tryout for the national team two months away. Two months away!

This is a fairly readable romance novel; it moves quickly, the characters aren't loathsome (Devlin never grabs A.J.'s arm, A.J. never suddenly reveals she has a toddler stashed away in Mexico) and the horses are a nice plot touch. An uneven, odd plot touch, which allows me to revel in my inner horse nerderie. The prose is a bit purple, but that's often the case in romances.

  • Sabbath is - a black stallion. Ahhh, a classic.

  • Sabbath is a Thoroughbred, untried at jumping, who somehow sells for $30,000.

  • Sabbath is described thus on page one: his coat glistened with flashes of black and navy - er, navy? A navy horse? I get so-black-he's-blue, or blue-black, but NAVY?

  • A.J. corrals Sabbath at the auction after he's broken loose by performing the classic 'I am magic touch with the horses' routine. And walking the horse back to his stall sans halter, lead, etc.

  • Sabbath and Devlin clear the air on their first meeting by having a stallion-stallion standoff including Sabbath roaring. Do stallions roar? Isn't this lions?

  • Devlin is surprised that A.J., a rich girl, has well-used leather tack instead of a nice new nylon bridle. Because horse people hate leather, and wealthy southerners despise quality goods?

  • A.J., about to mount her $30,000 investment for the first time, a horse known to like to unload riders, doesn't bother thinking about her horse because she's obsessing over Devlin.

  • The first ride culminates in jumping, and serious jumping; all subsquent training sessions for the next two months are jumping. One line emphasizes the horse and rider pounding down over and over again after each fence, but the issue is how wan and frail our heroine has become.What about the horse, who is the one whose legs are taking the brunt of this intensive prep?

  • As an old friend tells A.J. "The strength's in your heart, not your head."
  • Well, thank God, right, because A.J.'s all sturm and drang, and no sense. She forgets she hasn't paid Devlin for board, training, etc., until about a month and a half after she moves in. Her big break from Daddy basically translates into running straight into the arms of an older man who can take care of her - Daddy #2.

  • A.J., hunting down Sabbath's history, finds the name of the stallion's 'broodmare.' Wouldn't that be 'dam'? I mean, I dunno, but I've never seen 'broodmare' used like that.

  • In both jumper shows she attends with Sabbath, she pauses to remove her 'hat' respectfully to the judges; have I been missing something at horse shows? Outdated idea, dressage idea, what?

  • When someone has a bad fall at a show, the spectators begin stomping their feet in a weird 'death march' - again, have I been missing something?

  • Bummed at being ditched by Devlin, A.J. summarily moves to sell her phobia-ridden, quirky stallion who only eats when she's around, tries to eat farriers if she's not there to hold his halter, etc.

  • And the whole name - DEVLIN MCCLOUD.

According to this interview, Bird owned, rode and competed horses as a kid. Which explains her effortless use of so many classic horse tropes, from black stallions to horse whisperers. And the need to appeal to a wide audience explains how some of it was simplified.

Author's Website