Monday, December 14, 2009

A Kingdom In A Horse

A Kingdom In A Horse

Maia Wojciechowska.

Harper & Row, 1965

The mare's hips were outlined, the bones pressing against the dirty coat. He liked the wide white mark running from her eyes and narrowing slightly at the nostrils. And more than that, he liked the way the mare looked at him, with the soft brown eye and the very light blue one. It seemed to mock him, that look.

12-year-old David Lee is bitterly disappointed that his father Earl, a famous rodeo clown, has abruptly quit the circuit and moved them to Vermont to settle down. Apart from the horror of attending school regularly (where the gaps in his education quickly translate into constant failure and frustration), he feels betrayed that his father has broken a long-standing promise that he could join him in the arena as his partner. Sulking and withdrawn, he refuses to play along when his dad tries to buy him a horse for his 13th birthday. Even though he falls in love with the dirty chestnut mare at the auction, he turns away and continues to punish his dad by faking disinterest. Even though it half kills him.

He leaned for the reins; then barely touching them he neck-reined to the right, and the mare turned as sharply as he knew she would and sprung immediately into a canter. Although there were people in the passageway between the stalls, the horse ran as if she were in an open field, smoothly and fearlessly.

The mare is bought instead by 70-something Sarah Tierney. At loose ends after the death of her husband, she suddenly recalls a childhood dream of owning a horse. At the auction, she asks the help of a tall horseman sitting nearby, who happens to be Earl Lee, and the three are drawn together by chance and the influence of the mare soon to be christened Gypsy. And, surprisingly, even more people reveal hidden, horsey sides to themselves as news gets around of Sarah's purchase.

The writing switches back and forth from David's POV to Sarah's, and while hers is more interesting and believable, both are strong, individual voices.

The fear had not left her, but she knew this was the time to try her horse out, with Lee around. She loosened the reins a little, and the second she did, Gypsy took off at a fast canter. Sarah was petrified by the speed and her distance from the ground, and she held on to the horn with one hand. Off they went, faster now, at a gallop, down the dirt road.

The end notes say that the mare is based on a horse owned by Wojciechowska, and while I find some of the events daunting - galloping on your first ride ever? - they are likely based on reality.

A well-written book which concentrates on the human drama and quality, but is very much about the horse.


Gypsy - chestnut mare with one blue eye, maybe QH/TB

About the author


Born in Poland, Wojciechowska came to the U.S. sometime during the 1940s, having left Poland at the outbreak of World War II, and then France when that country fell to the Nazis. She attended a variety of schools during this time, and developed a dislike for the educational system. She attended Immaculate Heart College in California, and worked on several publications including a labor newspaper, Newsweek, and in PR. Over the years she lived in Santa Fe, Mahwah and Laguna Beach. She died in Long Branch, NJ of a stroke. She published 3 books for adults under her married name, and 17 for children and teens under her maiden name. Many of her later books had a clear social message, not unusual for the era (1960-1980) she was writing in. She won the Newberry Medal in 1956 for Shadow Of A Bull. The mare Gypsy was based on a horse she and her daughter Oriana owned.


University of Mississippi de Grummond Collection 1 and 2

New York Times obituary

Other Books


Market Day For `Ti Andre (1952) under name Maia Rodman

Shadow Of A Bull

A Single Light (1968)

2und Out (aka Tuned Out)

The Hollywood Kid (1966)

Don't Play Dead Before You Have To

Hey, What's Wrong With This One?

The Rotten Years


Winter Tales From Polan (stories)

Odyssey Of Courage: The Story Of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (bio)

Till The Break Of Day (autobiography)

The People In His Life (adult novel)

How God Got Christians Into Trouble

She also began writing a series called "Dreams Of..." and cowrote The Bridge To The Other Side with Monika Kotowska.

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