Friday, December 31, 2010

Blueberry (1963)

As a kid I read anything with an equine theme, but I truly loved the few books where the plot remained strongly focused on the kid and the horse. Winning the race, driving the cattle across Texas, capturing the wild stallion, rescuing the trapped foal from quicksand - yes, the big drama plots are nice. But the smaller plots were satisfying. They were the essence of the horse bug for me, those books where girl and horse would just ride around, in the woods and along the river and down to the creek for a swim on a hot summer afternoon.

And then the skein of days went unwinding. There was in them a unique completeness, a fulfillment. When she turned to Blueberry in the blind instinctive way of one in first-love, yet unhurt, the mare was always there. Wherever possible, Kristin moved with the horse at her side. Sometimes in the hot nights, noisy with the sounds of katydids and crickets, or a wakeful bird, she brought her pillow and quilt out to the paddock. The mare became so used to her presence that she wouldn't rise from where she rested, but watched the girl as she made her bed and lay down nearby. Kristin would awake to find the horse had risen and was chewing on her hay or waiting in soft animal fashion for Kristin to direct their day.


Helga Sandburg
1963, The Dial Press

Kristin, a dreamy 14-year-old Michigan girl whose hard-headed father is starting to worry will never learn to study or even just focus, desires a horse.

The summer streamed out before Kristin in a huge empty space of time. Every girl in the eighth grade had been boy-crazy except for Kristin. She was famous for being horse-crazy. Danny had a beat-up sidesaddle which he'd let Kristin strap on a log when she was nine or ten. Sometimes she felt half her life was spent at fantasies; nothing was real. In winters when she dragged her toboggan out on the snow-deep dunes she still called it a golden mare, whispering a name to herself. It was all imagining. She felt fiercely that she ought to have the real thing.

Summer vacation has just started, but 14-year-old Kristin's joy is broken by her father's anger; he's upset that her last report card was bad, that she's consistently forgotten to care for her pet guinea pigs, and that her best friend Danny Wasilewski is a half-Gypsy boy. Kristin has no intention of obeying her father's demand that she have no more to do with Danny, and her regrets about her grades and her wandering responsibilities take a back seat to her longing for a horse. Her two sisters, older and more beautiful and more capable, are strong farm girls whose pride and joy is their goat herd, and all their plans involve agricultural school and farming. They also despair of absent-minded Kristin, but they agree to help her convince their dad to let her buy a little buckskin mare from a carnival.

The mare turned her head, the black mane drooped uncombed, the forelock straggled over her brown eyes; her slender almost-black legs contrasted with the sandy-colored coat. Field burrs had knotted in her tail. Like the others she needed grooming. They looked at each other and as the mare turned back to stand with head drooped, Kristin knew her desire.

Kristin, swearing to improve her grades and bolstered by support from her mother and sisters, convinces her father to buy the little mare named Blueberry. She earns the mare's hay by doing chores for her sisters, and glories in first ownership, riding to the beach and through the woods at all hours of the day and night, having secret picnics with Danny and teaching Blueberry to swim in the lake.

Danny's life is going the other way. His gypsy mother is dead, his Polish father is a grieving, struggling truck-farmer, and he's frequently confronted with people (like Kristin's father) who harbor prejudices against both gypsies and Poles. In the fall, Mr. Wasilewski is so short of money he's forced to send Danny away to live with a harsh uncle, and the boy runs away. Kristin spends a long winter battling grades and time to cram chores, riding, and studying into the too-short hours, lonely for her missing friend.

Kristin's family is one domineering male against a mild wife and three daughters who tend to assume they can overcome his objections. Here and there, throughout the book, are short passages from the father's point of view as he regards, baffled, his womenfolk. Typical of its time, it fiercely presents support for equality and fairness for various people even while maintaining the norm of a girl focusing on a boy's needs and pain. Kristin, repeatedly dubbed a tomboy, is a strong girl, but she is given the womanly instinct of focusing excessively on male trouble.

She knew Uncle Jock figured all boys were in need of subjugation, forgetting Danny'd had a taste of authority while he took over a man's role, caring for his father and the farm.

While this is altogether a fine book with a strong, interesting heroine, several involving plots and a variety of well-developed characters, it's the powerful presentation of the bond between human and horse that makes it stand out.

Bimbo - collie
Smoky - crow
Teddy - Abyssinian guinea pig
Sophie - Nubian goat
Mr. Shams - blue Persian cat
Hurricane - bay gelding
Blueberry - buckskin mare
Red Wolf - chestnut Quarter Horse stallion

About the Author
Helga Sandburg wrote two books about Kristin and her horse, Blueberry (1963) and Gingerbread (1967) . They were set in Michigan, where Helga grew up on a property near Lake Michigan. The youngest of three sisters, Helga had two extremely famous near relatives. Her father was the poet Carl Sandburg and her uncle was the photographer and painter Ed Steichen. She was close to her mother, and the two of them began raising dairy goats at their Michigan home in the 1930s. She attended the University of Chicago, married three times and wrote several books.

Cleveland Woman - Helga Sandburg
Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library - The Dial Press
The Dial Press - Random House
Dial Books For Young Readers - Penguin

Other Books (equine)
Gingerbread (1967) - sequel

The Dial Press
Founded in 1923, it changed hands several times. With third owner B.C. Hoffman, it began publishing more popular novels, including the inestimable Frank Yerby's 1945 novel The Foxes Of Harrow. It was bought out by Dell Publishing Company during the 1960s; Dell was bought by Doubleday in 1976. The children's division was sold to Dutton, which eventually ended up with Penguin (owned by media giant Pearson) while the adult imprint survives as part of Random House.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year, New Books

And a short list of upcoming horsey fiction for the new year.

The A Circuit
by Catherine Hapka and Georgina Bloomberg (May 24, 2011) (Bloomsbury) (YA)

Belladona by Mary Finn (June 14, 2011) Candlewick

The Black Stallion And The Lost City by Steven Farley (June 28, 2011)

New in Paperback
Saddled by Susan Richards (1/6/2011) Houghton Mifflin (memoir)

Horse Diaries: Yatimah by Ruth Sanderson (January 2011) (Random House) (child series)
Raven Speak by Diane Lee Wilson (April 26, 2011)

I Can Read Books - Pony Scouts by Catherine Hapka and Anne Kennedy
At The Show (May 3, 2011)
Back In The Saddle (March 8 , 2011)

Breyer Horse Portrait Collection by Annie Wedekind

Mercury's Flight: The Story of a Lipizzaner Stallion (June 21, 2011)

Picture Books
Race The Wild Wind by Sandra Markle and Layne Johnson (July 19, 2011) Walker Books for Young Readers

New printings
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, with foreword by Monty Roberts, afterword by Lucy Grealy (1/4/2011) Penguin Putnam

Odds N Ends - Romance with mini horse
Here To Stay
by Catherine Anderson (1/25/2011)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Runaway Pony, Runaway Dog (1963)

Tough Enough whined. The little dog was worried. He cocked his large ears forward; his eyes were restless, alert. He knew something was wrong with Sassy, his pony friend. The pony was limping toward a tempting clump of grass. Tough Enough was trotting along beside him. When the pony put his nose down to the grass, the dog whimpered softly and touched Sassy's nose with his.

A little dog and a chestnut Banker pony are best friends living in the Great Smoky Mountains on the Tuttle farm, adored by young owner Beanie Tuttle. But Sassy has a hurt leg, and when the two are sent off for a stay at the local vet hospital they don't understand why they've been exiled. Sassy manages to jump out of his field, and the two run away to search for their home.

Every now and then, Sassy would spread his nostrils and toss his head. Tough Enough's tail was up and waving. They were going home. They were sure of that.

They're caught by a mildly villainous character named Will Bumgarner, whose soft spot for animals has led him to maintain a roadside zoo. A generally kind man who helps Sassy's leg heal, he also maintains a collection of depressed wild animals in stout cages. Reluctant to part with his new pets, Will makes them a highlight of his zoo by dressing pony and dog in costumes for the customers, and resorts to defensively telling his wife it'd be a cruelty to send the nice little animals back to some hillbilly farm to work their lives out.

When they finally do escape, they revel in being free -

Both were finding happiness in roaming through sun-warmed, sweet-scented brush, in drinking from cold, rushing brooks, in hearing the steady whisper of water over rocks, in splashing and swimming in clear pools.

- unaware that their grieving owners are one step behind and heartbroken to discover they've just missed their pets. More adventures and dangers come between the animals and their family, but could there be a doubt that there's a homecoming?

I remember being somewhat leery of this book as a child. Beautiful illustrations, but the book's target audience is fairly young for the level of scariness. The length, very simple language and brief sentences indicates it's intended for intermediate independent readers but there are several disturbing scenes where the animals imprisoned or attacked, and they're starved nearly to death by the end of the book. There's also a fair amount of preachiness, from the idealistically poor-but-honest Tuttles to the anti-zoo emphasis and the general depiction of tourists as ignorant, backward and violent.

On the positive side are the lushly beautiful illustrations (though I still think Ruth's black and white drawings are even more beautiful, see the links below to the Hounds In Print blog about Scuffles for a lovely set of dog pictures.) Also, the writing is strong within the limitations imposed by the age of the audience, and major characters tend to be given more depth than is usual in a book for young children.

This is the final book in a 7-book series about the Tatum family and their many pets. The detailed pastel pencil illustrations were the faithful result of years hiking in the area for the Carrolls, who were originally from New York but who moved to Asheville, North Carolina in 1950 and used their talents to counter stereotypes of Appalachia natives as ignorant, backward, and violent.

The Great Smoky Mountains cover parts of Tennessee and North Carolina, and contain both the Southern Appalachian mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Idle googling and polio

The book is dedicated "For the Children in the Asheville Orthopedic Hospital." I googled it mainly to be thorough, as it appeared to be a worthy but not particularly exciting interest of the authors. But it is, actually, a bit interesting. The hospital was originally for children with developmental disabilities, but changed with the polio outbreak into a regional center for treating polio patients, mostly children. I watched a documentary on polio a few months ago, and it was fascinating. They made the point that the fear of polio was somewhat irrational, considering the relatively low number of patients and the relatively low rate of patients who died or were crippled by the disease, and that the crusade against it was something of a political scheme. And yet it remains a major sense of triumph in the collective imagination - the defeat of a scourge that killed and crippled children, a moral quest, the proof that human science could defeat implacable disease, evidence that we could apply gumption and dimes and send a killer virus packing. And does it matter, the complicating facts that there was more to the story? Or does it just go to prove that humans are natural storytellers, with an instinct to pick and choose our stories based largely on what feels narratively right, even in the absence of campfires and in the presence of Wikileaks and 24/7 news?

And, to make that little segue a little more horse-worthy, a list of horse books with polio themes. There's Vian Smith's 1966 novel King Sam (which I know by the American title, Tall And Proud), whose young heroine, Gail, refuses to work at recovering from a bout of polio until a retired racehorse gives her a reason to try to walk again. There's also a Josephine Pullein-Thompson book, Show Jumping Secret (1955), which has a male protagonist with a disabled leg from polio. In Stranger Than Fiction (1984), Joyce Stranger did a fictionalized bio of a polo player who suffered a childhood bout of polio. From Australia, there's Alan Marshall's autobiographical I Can Jump Puddles (1955), which chronicles the author's experiences as a kid who got polio. The sections concerning his efforts to ride again despite having only one strong leg pop up in horse anthologies sometimes. And, of course, there's Marguerite Henry's Mustang, Wild Spirit Of The West (1966) in which the heroine recovers from a childhood polio attack.

About the authors/illustrators
Ruth Robinson Carroll (1899-1999) was the illustrator, but she was also a co-author with husband Archer Latrobe Carroll (1894-1996). The two were originally from New York, but became fascinated with the Southern Appalachia region and moved to Asheville, North Carolina in 1950.

Archer was a 1918 Harvard graduate who had an undergrad short story "The Butterfly In The Fog" published in The Best College Short Stories 1917-1918. He served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, then worked as an editor and staff writer for various companies until beginning a freelance career. Ruth was a Vassar graduate who went to art school and did the illustrations for all their collaborations. They married in 1928. Their first collaboration was The Luck Of The Roll And Go.

Other Books in series
Beanie (1953)
Tough Enough (1954)
Tough Enough's Trip (1956)
Tough Enough's Pony (1957)
Tough Enough And Sassy (1958)
Tough Enough's Indians (1960)

Other Books - animals
Pet Tales (1949)
Peanut (1952)
Salt And Pepper (1952)
Digby The Only Dog (1955)
Scuffles (1963)
Danny And The Poi Pup (1965)
The Picnic Bear (1966)
The Managing Hen And The Floppy Hound (1972)
Hullabaloo, The Elephant Dog (1975)
The Christmas Kitten

Other Books
The Luck Of The Roll And Go (1935)
Flight Of The Silver Bird (1939)
The Flying House (1946)
School In The Sky (1949)

The Tatum Family Series essay by Judy Teaford
Revisiting The Tatum family essay by Judy Teaford
The de Grummond Collection
The University of Oregon guide to the Carroll papers there
Ponymad Booklovers on the Carrolls and the Tatum series
"The Butterfly In The Fog" at Google Books
AskArt on Ruth Carroll
Asheville, North Carolina website
The Mounatin XPress about the Orthopedic Hospital
The National Park Service - The Great Smoky Mountains
Wikipedia on the Appalachias

Links to other blog reviews of the Carroll books
Peanut at Vintage Kids' Books
Peanut at Hounds In Print
Scuffles at Hounds In Print

And just to note, Hounds In Print is my neglected blog on dog books.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Black Stallion's Filly (1952)

The Black Stallion's Filly
Walter Farley, il. Milton Menasco
1952, Random House

Black Minx came into the ring held firmly by the white-coated attendants who handled all the horses up for sale. She was coal black and small. She had a quick, competent walk as she was led about the ring, and it was apparent to those who watched her that her limited size was misleading, for she had more muscle than was noticeable at first glance. Her head was light and beautiful with great breadth between sharp eyes, a slightly dished nose, a narrow muzzle and sensitive nostrils. Her only disfigurement was a short tail, so short that it was barely more than a stump.

Henry Daily, bored with life on Hopeful Farm after he retires Satan from the track, decides to buy himself a racehorse. He buys a two-year-old filly by the Black despite her dubious history (she took her last jockey through the rail, breaking his collarbone), sure he can fix her. Alec, content to stay home at the farm, isn't so sure, but in his quiet, reliable way decides not to argue but do everything he can to help his old friend achieve his goal - to have this wild, wilfull, contrary filly whose last race ended in the infield, ready to run in America's premiere classic, the Kentucky Derby. And win.

...[Alec] went back in memory to the days when Henry had taken him and the Black under his wing, when Henry had encouraged him to race the Black because he had confidence in Alec's ability to handle the stallion on the racetrack. At the time, Henry's enthusiasm had sounded just as fantastic... But it had turned out the way Henry had said it would. He had ridden the Black to victory over the best horses in the country.

First, Henry and Alec have to fix the filly's horrible ground manners, which include biting and kicking. In a sequence which is ground indelibley into the minds of anyone who reads the book, Henry finally resorts to a baked potato to cure Black Minx's willingness to bite. I won't spoil it by quoting, but that chapter alone makes the book worth reading.

While Henry is the trainer, Alec is the jockey and he quickly realizes that the filly's other issues are nothing compared to her indifference to racing. She has speed, but when Alec tries to work her faster, the filly placidly continues at the same pace as before, ignoring his urging to speed up. Henry's face, always grim, matches the winter weather of their New York state farm as he ponders how to best Black Minx and make her a racehorse.

In the meantime, Henry and Alec watch the televised races of warm-weather racing from Florida and California, where other Derby hopefuls are being honed. California darling Golden Vanity shows blistering speed in winning the Santa Anita Derby, Eastern colt Silver Jet lives up to his status as an early Derby favorite by winning the Flamingo Stakes, a filly named Lady Lee in the Louisiana Derby, and Wintertime and Eclipse in the Experimental.

An interesting book in that gruff, rough Henry has something personal on the line this time, and even loyal Alec sometimes wonders if he's seeing clearly. Farley's racing books tended to give the reader an extensive look at the competition, which creates a sense of realism, showing Henry and Alec studying the races of the horses and jockeys they'll be going up against in the Derby.

Black Minx - black filly
Golden Vanity - 17h chestnut colt
Moonstruck - bay colt
Silver Jet - grey colt
Lady Lee - filly
Wintertime - blood bay colt
Eclipse - brown colt

Ruth Sanderson paperback from the 1970s.

The most recent paperback edition.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Horse That Had Everything (1965)

The Horse That Had Everything
Newlin B. Wildes, il. Albert Micale
1966, Rand McNally & Company, American Education Publications

"Animals, animals," Kink said morosely. "The halt and the lame. They always seem to be with us."

Widower Kink Jonathan, an artist with a growing reputation, has chosen to live in rural Vermont with his 14-year-old son Rick, and they've gradually accumulated an assortment of animals. But Rick loves horses, and is a regular fixture at their neighbor's racing farm, where he forms an attachment to the crooked foal of the mare Never Fear. When the farm's cold-blooded owner, Slade Corcoran, decides to kill the crippled foal, Rick successfully begs him for another chance.

Rick raises the colt, who he eventually dubs Sans Peur, and with loving care and exercise the crooked leg straightens. And as the colt grows bigger and stronger and faster, the pressure mounts for Rick to turn his backyard pet into a racehorse.

This books holds an entertaining if typical premise, but is spoiled by a lack of pace. Wildes's writing is good enough piece by piece, with convincing action and a nice writing style -

Suzi took the saddle and bridle off Ulysses. He and the colt exchanged sniffs and got along, plucking grass side by side. They knew each other.

April is not the best month in Vermont. It often snows, the trees are still gaunt skeletons, the mud is not always gone. Nevertheless, there is promise of better things. Some days are, as the farmers' wives say, like a good apple pie: "warm in the middle and crisp around the edges." Cows are rough-coated in barnyards. Horses are shaggy, wandering in the fields searching for early blades of grass.

- but it doesn't have a natural flow. Scenes either inch along or jump sharply. Individual scenes are quite strong, but only for very brief moments and then the action lurches again. The major weakness, however, is the underlining of the major plot points instead of letting the reader infer them from the writing, which actually does a very good job if the author had only trusted it.

There are also two tedious minor plots in the growing awareness of the maturing Rick that neighbor Suzi isn't just an inferior girl anymore but a Girl, and the sometimes grating comparison between the big Thoroughbred San and Suzi's short, shaggy Morgan.

I read the book during this year's epic snowstorm, and seized on this bit -

Whenever there was a thaw and the snow became heavy and apt to cake on the colt's feet, Rick would rub butter all over the inside of San's hoofs to keep the snow from balling up there and twisting an ankle. "Darn expensive way to keep a horse's feet snow-free," Kink grumbled, when Rick disappeared with another quarter pound.

- to try with my dog, who also suffers snow buildup on walks. It works, but there are drawbacks. One, the dog clearly thinks you're mentally unstable for rubbing a stick of butter on her paws. Two, you end up taking a walk with hands coated in butter, which is great for dry winter skin but not so great for the general health of your mittens or your own sense of neatness. Three, it wears off fast, particularly if your dog discovers that her feet now taste great.

Equines and others
Ulysses S. Grant - Morgan gelding
Never Fear - grey Thoroughbred mare
Mon Oncle - Thoroughbred stallion
Sans Peur - grey Thoroughbred colt
Times Three - bay Thoroughbred colt
Abraham - donkey
Thomas Jefferson "TJ" Tibbs - large tiger cat
Albert - Plymouth Rock rooster

The New England-based Wildes worked for Photoplay and then joined Curtis Publishing at their Boston office in 1937. The 1942 Gene Autry western Heart Of The Rio Grande was based on one of his stories.

Other Books
The Best Summer (1965)

Short Stories - horse
"Young Man On The Way Up" in Wildfire, The Red Stallion and Other Great Horse Stories

Short Stories - various
The Saturday Evening Post, May 20, 1944 - "Gold In Your Backyard"
Companion, July 1945 - "Little Guy"
Companion, June 1946 - "Crazy Like A Fox"
Liberty, September 1947
Colliers, September 5, 1936 - "Foot In The Door"
Ladies Home Journal, April, 1946 - "A Matter Of Style"
"Powderpuf" - football

Illustrator - Albert Micale
An artist who specialized in comics, particularly Westerns, Micale's versions of Roy Rogers adventures are some of the most sought after by collectors. He also illustrated children's nonfiction, and some fiction.

Other horse-related books
The Best Summer by Newlin B. Wildes (1964)
The Capture Of West Wind by Rutherford B. Montgomery (1962)
Trouble At Paintrock: A Penny Of Paintrock Mystery by Jane and Paul Annixter

And because we mentioned Roy...
Trigger, the palomino stallion who was Roy's equine pardner, was (along with the singing cowboy's German Shepherd Dog, Bullet) stuffed after death. The two were auctioned off this summer, along with Dale Evan's horse Buttermilk and Trigger backup Little Trigger. Trigger and Bullet ended up with RFD-TV. The Nebraska-based cable network is named after the old U.S. Postal Service designation for rural addresses - Rural Free Delivery - and specializes in rural programming, from cattle auctions to bluegrass to Hee Haw. The two are now on tour to various appropriately themed events. RFD-TV has also revived a kids' fan club from the old Roy Rogers television show, the Roy Rogers Riders Club, which is unbearably bittersweet.

The Publisher
American Education Publication was a new one to me, so I googled. Apparently, it was the publisher of the school newspapers My Weekly Reader and Current Events, as well as other educational work, and owned by Wesleyan University Press until Xerox bought it in 1965. They changed its name to Xerox Education Publications in 1972.

Kiddie Matinees (for the AEP info)
Weekly Reader
A list of Wilds's short stories
Comic Creator about Albert Micale
Luxist about the auction of Trigger and Bullet
RFD's Happy Trails Tour

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Scarlet Royal (1952)

This is one of those books I had as a kid and remember with great fondness. The review below has almost no quotes largely because my copy is now extremely fragile. Just re-reading it pulled loose some pages; propping it open with a candlestick or flower pot so I can copy some quotes will kill it altogether. So I'll limit myself to the summary on the back cover, which does a good job.

The only thing in Margo's life that really counted was the horses themselves: riding them, hunting, showing, caring for them, loving them. Especially her own horse, Scarlet Royal - hers until the wealthy Cranshaws offered more than the struggling Macintyre's could afford to refuse. Be nice to the Cranshaws, her mother said. How could she like Ginevra Cranshaw who went off with her beloved horse and her best boy friend?
A story of sportsmanship and courage by the author of Senior Year.

Scarlet Royal
Anne Emery, il. Charles Waterhouse (cover)
1952, Macrae Smith Company

Margo Macintyre is 15 when her mare, Red Queen, produces a chestnut filly dubbed Scarlet Royal. The foal is to be the final triumph for Margo's father, William, an Irish immigrant whose rags-to-riches story has culminated in a gentleman's farm, Green Meadow, filled with horses, an adoring wife, three daughters, a cook, a housekeeper and a groom.

Jump ahead two years. William Macintyre is newly dead, killed by the stress of seeing his real-estate venture fail, and his widow presents their daughters with reality: they have a farm and horses, but virtually no income. They can either sell out and go live more frugally in an apartment, or they can try to launch a riding school. Relieved to save their beloved home, they agree to tackle domestic and stable chores none of them have ever handled. It's not easy, but they are making it work by the end of that first summer. Margo and her sisters help teach the beginners and their mother, Madeleine, has a private student who's more advanced. It's this student, Ginevra Cranshaw, who brings Margo's world crashing back down. A competitive, calculating daughter of rich and indifferent parents, Ginevra has only one interest in a horse - can it win for her. In Scarlet, she sees a horse who can take her to the Maclay Finals, and win her parents' attention at last. When Mr. Cranshaw offers Margo a price the family can't afford to refuse, a beaten Margo sells the mare.

When, adding insult to injury, Ginevra also walks off with Margo's boyfriend, the now 17-year-old Margo declares she's never going to trust another man. Shortly thereafter, the Macintyres hire a college student to work on the farm, and Neil begins to patiently prod Margo away from her bitterness and obsession with somehow winning back her lost horse.

This is a well-written book with a thin but consistent horse plot, and a strongly sympathetic heroine. It has a powerful hook in that the heroine actually loses the horse, and is also one of those great horsey books where the villain is the villain because she doesn't care about horses; she's a good rider, but she doesn't have the right attitude. Margo's love for Scarlet is criticized, but she remains focused on rescuing the mare, although she admits she's being selfish in some ways. It's a balanced book, which is typical of Emery. Her books were all teen romances, but they were intelligent and her characters were surprisingly complex. They were also far more feminist than you'd expect from the genre. Here, she kills off the blarneying father in under 10 pages, and he's virtually never mentioned again. The all-female family manages to resurrect its fortunes almost alone, with no male advice until the romance angle begins with the hiring of Neil Campbell, college kid from Wyoming, who quickly becomes annoyingly perfect - he charms the Macintyres, cleans stalls, knows horse shows, sorrowfully points out Margo's faults re: obsessing over Scarlet, etc., etc. He does a pretty good job of redeeming himself, though.

Note: The cover shown is from the 1961 paperback by Scholastic Book Services's TAB Books. The original 1951 Macrae Smith hardcover apparently contains interior illustrations by Manning deV. Lee; there is one illustration of his in the paperback, serving as a frontspiece.

The book, along with Emery's others, is back in print with Image Cascade, which publishes fondly recalled teen novels of the mid-20th century.

Odds and Ends

Equine Characters

Scarlet Royal - chestnut filly
Red Queen - chestnut mare
Counterpoint - grey hunter gelding
Gingham Girl - Welsh pony
Domino - black hunter gelding
Bittersweet - bay hunter gelding
Kingpin - Ginevra's jumper
Coquette - Ginevra's saddle horse

I don't remember noticing the name Ginevra as a kid (I was too busy booing her evil, crop-swishing ways) but this time around it caught my eye as a strange name. According to some fairly random research, it's either Welsh meaning "white, fair, smooth" and is a form of Guinevere, or Italian meaning "white wave." It was also the name of a Chicago socialite from the early 20th century thought to have inspired Fitzgerald's Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. Since Emery was a Chicago girl all her life, and since writers are magpies and since people with roots tend to be people who inherit the memories of their parents and grandparents, you have to wonder if she had that story somewhere in mind when she named her spoiled, wealthy villain.

Image Cascade - Scarlet Royal

Author Bio
Anne Eleanor McGuigan was the eldest of five children with a father who was a professor. She graduated from Northwestern University in 1928, spent a year traveling with her family, and then began teaching. She married John Emery in 1933, and had five children. She lived in Evanston, Illinois most of her life, and that Chicago suburb is where most of her books are set.

The illustrators
The paperback's cover and its sole illustration aren't particularly memorable, which is odd considering both artists were respected illustrators with decent careers. I'm not 100% sure of my research on the cover illustrator, Charles Waterhouse; there is an American artist of that name who seems to have specialized in military paintings; the name fits, and the timing is possible, but I'm not sure. There's no direct link - nothing about the Marine Corp. artist mentions this book - and the art itself doesn't seem very similar.

The frontspiece illustrator, Manning deV. Lee (1894-1980) was a graduate of Philadelphia's spectacular old art school, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He served in WWI, and then resumed his career as an illustrator for magazines and over 200 books.

Manning deV. Lee - other horse illustrations
The Stubborn Mare by Jo Sykes (1957)
Steel Dust, The Story of A Horse by Hoffman Birney (1928)
Horses, Horses, Horses edited by Phyllis R. Fenner (1951)
Cowboys, Cowboys, Cowboys, ed. Phyllis R. Fenner (
Sidi, Boy Of The Desert by Alida Malkus (1956)
The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (1925 edition by Macrae Smith)
Dogs, Dogs, Dogs, ed. Phyllis R. Fenner

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A pretty new version of Black Beauty

Penguin is bringing out a new paperback edition of Anna Sewell's classic, Black Beauty.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Another way to get a pony...

I thought horse stories had taught me all the ways you could end up with an equine - steal it, borrow it, capture it in the wild, unwrap it on Christmas morning or find it trotting serenely down the road looking lost and sad. But now, I discover a new way; get one as a real estate promotion back in the anything-goes 1950's! According to an article in the August 13, 1956 edition of Life magazine, entitled "A Galloping Popularity For The Pony," ponies were given away with houses in one Oklahoma suburb. Accompanying the photo below of the little girl riding hell-for-leather on a Shetland is the caption:

In her backyard in Midwest City, Oklahoma, Mary Good, 7, races her Shetland. Pony came free with house, one of 30 given away by builders with sale of $22,000 homes in development.

Also interesting is the information earlier in the article that Montgomery Ward listed ponies in its catalog. $179.95 cash for an untrained, purebred Shetland colt, or $18 down and 15 months to pay! Montgomery Ward apparently had two pages of animal listings, including ponies, dogs and donkeys for sale. The catalogs of Spiegel's and Sears Roebuck also sold donkeys and ponies in those wacky 1950s; Spiegel, at least, sold even more exotic creatures, like spider monkeys and zebras. Of course, in the wacky 1990s and beyond, you could/can buy puppies and horses and just about anything else online. The big difference these days is, you're burdened with the downer knowledge that most animals should not be bought online (with sources like Petfinder, websites of good breeders, etc., being the obvious exceptions) and that takes all the fun out of it.

August 13, 1956 issue of Life
Dollar Times - inflation calculator
Montgomery Ward on Wikipedia

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Thanksgiving Treasure (1974)

Thanksgiving, finest of holidays. A four-day weekend, loads of food, no gifting pressure, no massive buildup of holiday cheer, just a parade (switching between the slickness of New York and the hokiness of Philadelphia), a dog show (the Irish Setter won this year!), and food. Turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and olives and buns and more stuffing and gravy and pumpkin pie and whipped cream (the deliciously fake kind that comes in a little plastic tub), and I think I forgot to get some of the apple pie. Excuse me.

Back with pie. Despite the fact that this is a pretty big American holiday, it's never really been popular as a setting for fiction. That makes me all the more tickled to coordinate an appropriate book for today. To be honest, this is not all that horsey, but it does have a horsey theme. And it is a compelling book. Given its unusual pedigree, that's impressive all by itself. It was originally created as a novelization of a CBS made-for-TV-movie, along with three other books about Addie Mills, an adolescent girl in 1940's Nebraska. Everything about these books tells you they're from an earlier era, one where people didn't own a ton of stuff, didn't decorate to impress, didn't have junk food and toys bulging from every cabinet. The author vividly recreates a time when youngish adults were still deeply affected by the Depression years and the world wars, grumpy old codgers abounded, and everything was a lot more basic.

The Thanksgiving Treasure
Gail Rock, il. Charles C. Gehm
1974, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

I would have happily given up any member of my family or any friend, including Carla Mae, to have a horse, but the mere mention of the word was enough to guarantee an argument from my father. He had grown up on a farm, and he saw nothing thrilling about a horse. He simply did not respond to my fantasies of riding at a gallop across the plains beside Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

In November of 1947, Adelaide "Addie" Mills is growing up in Clear River, Nebraska, population 1,500, with her widower dad and her grandmother. Her dad's a curmudgeon, and has a long-standing feud with another local crank, farmer Walter Rehnquist. Rehnquist is a semi- hermit who threatens people with his shotgun if they trespass on his farm at the edge of town. Addie's always been content to accept her dad's view on the matter of the feud, but a combination of the season of overtures and the discovery that Rehnquist owns a horse gives her an idea; the Pilgrims and the Indians became friends over a shared meal on the original Thanksgiving, so why not invite the family enemy to the holiday dinner? Her dad's reaction is predictable.

"Well, think again before you come up with another damn fool idea like that!"

She tries to shop the idea to her best friend, Carla Mae, whose large family, she argues, won't even notice an additional face at the table. When that fails, she pulls out all the stops and argues that if no one wants the old grouch at their table, they should take a Thanksgiving meal
to him. Carla Mae is not enthusiastic -

"You're crazy!" she said. "The only reason you want to go is to see that stupid horse!"

- but gives in. Addie sneaks food off the table and then the two ride their bikes off into the darkness of a Thanksgiving afternoon. Rehnquist grudgingly lets them in and samples the food, but cuts to the heart of Addie's motivation -

"I'm a pretty smart old gink," he said, "So don't fool around with me, sister. Tell me the truth!" "I told you, it's the spirit of Thanksgiving, and ... I was worried about your horse."

It turns out the pinto mare is named Treasure, and Rehnquist is on the fence about letting Addie ride her until she mentions that her father won't let her ride.

A very short, quick book which moves along more by virtue of atmosphere and character than plot. It's not really a horse book - Treasure, while a pivotal part of the plot, is not actually in most of it.

This book - and the series it was a part of - has an odd story. The book was an early example of a book based on a visual medium, in this case a TV movie which originally aired on CBS on November 18, 1973. The movie was released on VHS as The Holiday Treasure, packaged with the far better-known prequel The House Without A Christmas Tree. Addie's adventures are based on those of the author/screenwriter, Gail Rock, and continue for two more movies/books, both of them also holiday themed. A Dream For Addie (the book) aka The Easter Promise shows Addie idolizing a famous actress who returns to her hometown of Clear River, and in Addie And The King Of Hearts, Addie develops a crush on a teacher.

IMDB for The Thanksgiving Treasure (1973)

Flying Dreams - a fan page for the film trilogy

Collecting Children's Books blog - the books
Roy Rogers website
Valley, Nebraska

Other Editions
1) A Bantam Book/Scholastic edition from 1976 (with, unfortunately, some writing on the cover)

2) A Dell Yearling edition (1986)

3) It also appeared in Redbook Magazine as a serial in November of 1974.

And the TV movie
The actress who plays Addie actually broke her leg falling from the horse during filming.

About the Author
Roberta Gail Rock (1940-____)
Rock grew up in Valley, Nebraska, which seems like a basic name even for the Midwest, and moved to New York to work in journalism. She worked as a film/TV critic for Women's Wear Daily, and did freelance writing.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews, reining and racehorses

Around this time last year, a depressing bit of publishing news emerged. Tart-tongued book review bible Kirkus Reviews was closing after 76 years. The Nielsen Company, in full-scale retreat from the often awful world of magazine publishing, shut down Kirkus and Editor & Publisher. And then - reprieve. A shopping mall mogul bought Kirkus, which was named after founder Virginia Kirkus. New owner Herb Simon is also the owner of the NBA's Indiana Pacers, and part owner of a bookstore.

Editor & Publisher
was also saved. The Duncan McIntosh Company resurrected the shuttered publication, sans its editor and star reporter, only to fire its remaining editorial staff late this year - the memo announcing the re-structuring is a little classic in bad writing:

"Editor & Publisher magazine will be utilizing more individuals for the print edition who are experts in their individual fields as opposed to reporters who track down experts and put the expert’s story into the writer’s words.

So, a few review from Kirkus of recent horsey releases: young adult fantasy novels Pegasus and House Of The Star, Jane Smiley's A Good Horse, a Ted Lewin picture book about a New York City barn, Stable and 2010 National Book Award winner (and racetrack fable) Lord Of Misrule

By Becky Hanson (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The largest reining show in the world kicks off this week in Oklahoma City. The National Reining Horse Association's NRHA Futurity and Adequan North American Affiliate Championship Show runs from November 25 through December 4, 2010.

Growing up with the elegant, long-legged, fiery Thoroughbreds of C.W. Anderson and Walter Farley as my ideals, I never had a notion of the West or Western riding. Then I grew up, began to realize that I could die, and started taking riding lessons. (In that order, which is, frankly, not the best order to do it - ideally you learn to ride before you learn that you can die, as that makes the whole process less fraught.) Once you give your fragile self to a large, skittish animal for safekeeping, those short, calm 'ranch-type' horses take on a whole new appeal. I went to a reining show a few years ago and what impressed me most was how, at the end of each round - a round that included galloping, spinning and bursts of speed - the horse stopped quietly at one end of the ring, the rider dismounted at his/her leisure, and they walked out in what can only be described as a mosey. I like a horse who can mosey.

And back to the Thoroughbreds... Mine That Bird, the gelding whose 2009 Kentucky Derby win charmed and surprised, has been retired. He'll have a retirement ceremony at Churchill Downs on November 28. The filly Zenyatta has retired (again) after coming a close, close second in the Breeder's Cup. And Philadelphia favorite Smarty Jones, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2004, has been moved from Kentucky stud Three Chimneys Farm to Ghost Ridge Farms in Pennsylvania.

And in hyper-reality, Secretariat has made $55 million. It reportedly cost $35 million. I leave it up to those who understand box-office philosophy to decide if that's a winner.

National Book Awards - Lord Of Misrule
Ted Lewin website

The Bloodhorse - Mine That Bird To Bid Farewell At Churchill
ESPN - Zenyatta Retires To Lane's End Farm
Ghost Ridge Farms
Box Office Mojo - Secretariat

NYT - Editor & Publisher and Kirkus To Close

NYT- Kirkus Gets A New Owner - From The NBA

Editor & Publisher

Saturday, November 13, 2010

More tangents

"All hunting stories are the same," said Clovis; "just as all Turf stories are the same, and all--"
"My hunting story isn't a bit like any you've ever heard," said the Baroness.

I've been fond of the short stories of H.H. Munro, aka Saki, since I discovered them in my college library. During the hours I should have been studying, partying, or (probably) reading books that actually were part of my English classes, I read him instead. There was something mesmerizing about those highly artificial stories, so many of them just little constructions around a wasp sting from his constant narrators, Clovis Sangrail and Reginald.

Saki's characters tended not to go near horses - knowing, apparently, that horses can reduce the most elegantly self-possesed human to sweating, ineffectual mania in under thirty seconds. In the story The Rogue, however, a horse plays a pivotal role in a newlywed's life. And in Esme, Saki makes a wholly unique contribution to the genre of fox-hunting fiction. Esme is also featured in a collection of horse stories, Classic Horses Stories: Fourteen Timeless Horse Tales, edited by Steven D. Price.

"It sounds a queer proceeding to ask for a horse back when you've just sold him," said Mrs. Mullet, "but something must be done, and done at once. The man is not used to horses, and I believe I told him it was as quiet as a lamb. After all, lambs go kicking and twisting about as if they were demented, don't they?"
The Rogue

The Brogue - Beasts And Super Beasts
Esme - The Chronicles Of Clovis

Saturday, November 6, 2010

New in November

P├ęgase; Walter Crane via Wikimedia Commons

I was slinking along the Young Adult section of the library, trying not to look creepy and old, when I spotted a brand new fanatasy novel whose cover was not largely black, did not feature an expressionless virgin and whose title did not appear in a red ribbon floating across the heroine's cloud of violently floating hair. In short, a novel which did not appear to be about the Undead, the Fey, or the like. It was vaguely green, but grass green, not the poison green of a book about demons or wizards. My gaze lingered, and then my eyes widened as I took in the title.

I haven't read Pegasus yet, but I have high hopes. The pedigree is impeccable. McKinley's been doing fantasy for years; I particularly liked her two visits to the Beauty and the Beast tale, Beauty (1978) and Rose Daughter (1997). She's no Bella/Harry opportunist. Her vampire story, Sunshine (2003), was one of the better recent takes on the genre.

On the FAQ section of her website: I used to say that the only strong attraction reality ever had for me was horses and horseback riding.

So she appears to be ideally suited to tackle the flying horse legend.

Also being released in November:
Most Wanted by Kate Thompson (Nov. 23, Greenwillow, Harper Collins) historical fiction
House Of The Star by Caitlin Brennan (Nov. 9, Starscape, Tor, Macmillan) fantasy

Robin McKinley's website
Robin McKinley's blog
Penguin Putnam - Pegasus

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

As they entered the partially harvested, moonlit cornfield, Cricket snorted and swung her head from side to side. She eyed with alarm the stalks of dried corn that stood like skeletons of their former selves. The wind sent the dead leaves into a frenzy of rustling, like the clicking of miniature bones. Dustin pressed his heels into the mare's sides, but she refused to move faster than a nervous prance.
"Haunted Hayride" in the anthology A Horse For All Seasons by Sheila Kelly Welch (1994)

With a jack o'lantern glowing out front and a surprising number of children trick-or-treating to the house (including one girl dressed as an equestrian! true story!), I am driven to a holiday posting. However, I do not have a suitable review and, inexplicably, horse books with a Halloween theme are thin on the ground, outside series books. In the short story quoted above, however, I hit a perfect connection to my last post; in Welch's tale, a teenage hayride goes awry when the organizer's little brother swipes her barrel-racing mare and stages a little Headless Horseman action.

Mr. McFadden's Halloween by Rumer Godden (1975)
Phantom Rider: Ghost Horse by Janni Lee Simner
Phantom Rider: The Haunted Trail by Janni Lee Simner(1996)
Phantom Rider: Ghost Vision by Janni Lee Simner(1996)
The Saddle Club: Horse Magic (#47) by Bonnie Bryant (1995)
The Saddle Club: Ghost Rider (#24) by Bonnie Bryant (1992)
The Great Pumpkin Ride by Laura Hesse (2004)
Riding Academy: Mary Beth's Haunted Ride by Alison Hart (1994)
Pony Tails: Corey And The Spooky Pony by Bonnie Bryant (1996)
Animal Ark: Pony In A Pumpkin Patch (#49) by Ben M. Baglio (2006)

Ghost Stories with Horse
Mystery Horse by Margaret Goff Clark (1972)
Gypsy And The Moonstone Stallion by Sharon Wagner (1980)
The Mystery Of The Crimson Ghost by Phyllis A. Whitney (1969)
Sydney's Ghost by Carol Iden (1969)
The Ghost Pony by Lynn Hall (1978) (aka The Mystery Of Pony Hollow)
Ghost Horse by George Edward Stanley (2000)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Headless Horseman

In college, I had a job as a witch at a Halloween hayride. We witches lurked in a dark corner of woods and when a wagon meandered past, we charged out and pretended to attack, screaming and cackling and clawing at the customers. Around 9pm, the kids and adolescents were replaced by teens and young adults, often drunk, who fought back with screaming insults and beer bottles. The tractor would carry them away before anyone got mauled, chugging off through the low, wet fields to do battle with the zombies next door. On busy nights, we'd be chasing one wagon as the next appeared behind us, and we'd have to roar back to the cauldron (which periodically caught on fire), on weekends the local cops would drive through, grinning, to round up an ornerier-than-usual customer. On slow nights, we'd walk down the road to visit with the neighbors - Freddy Krueger, Frankenstein's Monster, the zombies, the mad scientist and his victim. It paid minimum wage, but all in all, it was a highly satisfying job. The only downside was that I was on the opposite side of the property from the Headless Horseman, whose black horse I sometimes glimpsed as I drove into the parking lot.

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, by John Quidor (1801-1881)
Oil, 26 7/8 x 33 7/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Public domain via Wikimedia commons

The animal he bestrode was a broken down plow horse that had outlived almost everything but his viciousness He was gaunt and shagged with a ewe neck and a head like a hammer his rusty mane and tail were tangled and knotted with burrs one eye had lost its pupil and was glaring and spectral but the other had the gleam of a genuine devil in it Still he must have had fire and mettle in his day if we may judge from his name which was Gunpowder.

Google Books - The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Circus Doctor (1951) - nonfiction

I was standing at a bus stop in Philadelphia once, waiting dreamily for my ever-tardy public transit choice to heave into view through a spring rain, when an unusually designed truck stopped in front of me for a red light. And a small elephant looked out the half-open side door. I gazed in at the elephant, the elephant gazed out at the bus stop, the light changed, and we all went back to our lives. The circus, obviously, was in town.

I've never really liked circuses; the massive Ringling operation, the folksy modern-day tent shows, and the animal-less Cirque all leave me cold. That is, the shows leave me cold. The idea of being part of the circus, on the other hand, is fabulous. All that color and drama to take you away from drab and sordid reality. From Toby Tyler to The Greatest Show On Earth, I've always been a sucker for a circus story.

Plus, classic circus stories are like Westerns; even when they're bad, they have horses.

Circus Doctor

J.Y. Henderson, told to Richard Taplinger

1951, Little, Brown and Company

... the circus's biggest preoccupation was with its horses: Ringling Brothers had a fortune tied up in what was undoubtedly the most beautiful collection of horses in the world. They wanted everything possible done for the rest of their animals too, but experience had taught them that they couldn't expect that to be too much.

In September, 1941, John Ringling North called a young veterinarian and offered him a job. The vet, Henderson, was a partner in a mixed small/large animal practice in Louisiana, and suffering from the physical effects of anthrax. Fascinated by the idea of the circus and believing that the recent advances in veterinary medicine mean a chance to pioneer in the field of exotic animal care, he accepted.

In Ringling Brothers - Barnum & Bailey's winter quarters in Sarasota, Henderson is wary of his new, dangerous charges and takes comfort in the familiar:

On three sides of us there were open stalls, and on the fourth were box stalls where the most favored horses were kept. In the immediate center of the corral were patches of grass decorated with palm trees and a large watering trough... I examined the broad-beamed Percherons, smaller neat hackneys, smart American saddle horses, wild Arabians, the standard-bred horses, stockinged Clydesdales, and Andalusians.

Of course, Henderson treats the wild animals: the bears, which he discovers almost always need worming; the big cats, which seem to have a downright equine knack for strange accidents; a chocolate-loving hippo; and the elephants, who have a tendency to become footsore through walking on concrete so often. He and his wife even raise a particularly winning baby leopard, Sweetheart. His secret to treating animals seems to have been an exacting interest in details. He watches every horse act from the sidelines, noting each small incident like a horse bumping a leg on the ring, and treating the slight bruise before it can get bad. Fascinated by the wild animals, he spends time getting to know them and their trainers.

The busiest place in the world is not a beehive. It is not found by watching the ways of an ant, nor is it an army preparing for an invasion. The busiest place on earth is the grounds of a gigantic circus, two weeks before hitting the road for an eight-month season.

In that first year, with the value of vaccinations still in question, Henderson confidently tells the Norths that vaccinating the circus's 200+ horses will prevent the annual losses to shipping fever and sleeping sickness. That was a success. His attempt to halter two llamas for the parade was not.

While the pen boys stood there laughing, the two llamas chased me all over the pen. I was chastened and emerged unvictorious after being sprayed by both of them from head to foot.

Then there's the frankly alarming camel story, which I don't particularly care to relate in detail. Suffice it to say, camels appear to be extremely open-minded about personal matters most animals tend to regard with a great deal of jealousy. Henderson, perhaps because of this or because camels are just uncooperative patients, says:

I'd gladly walk a mile to keep from operating on a camel.

A year after he joins the circus, Henderson has an experience which irrevocably changes the way he views animals. On an August morning in Cleveland, a flash fire sweeps the menagerie tent, leaving animals dead, dying and badly hurt. Shocked by the aftermath, Henderson is impressed with both the stoicism of the badly hurt creatures and the willingness of those uninjured to go on with the show that night.

I knew then there is something in animal make-up akin to greatness in men. It is not just their size or their swiftness; their fierceness or their power. There is an inner nobility and a kinship to what is enduring in nature.

This is a essentially a collection of moments connected by quick throwaway lines about non-circus life. Henderson went into WWII in 1944 and served until 1946, rejoing the circus with his new wife, Martha, an aerialist. A few pages sum up their courtship, a paragraph goes to the war. A serviceable style, which supports but doesn't elevate the interesting stories, but which allows the author's humor and likeability to come through, and gives space to his passionate and sometimes elequent conclusions. Obviously dated, and some comments are a little depressing, as when he notes that the circus's horses are never put out into a pasture to graze.

And finally, it is a testament to the power of horses to do truly odd, arguably idiotic things that in a book filled with escaping lions, runaway giraffes and very angry gorillas, many of the most memorable mishaps have to do with the horses. A saddle horse, waiting on the ramp into Madison Square Garden, gets her hoof caught in her mouth. A liberty stallion decides to climb the bleachers, reaching the top row before deciding this was a bad idea. An absent-minded parade horse bumps into the tiger's cage and nearly gets scalped.


Billboard magazine article about the Cleveland fire (8/15/1942)

C. Lee Martin et al blog - covers roughly the same period with Ringling

Buckles Blog - covers circus history, features a photo of McClain's elephants

Buckles Blog - photo of Henderson

Circus Historical Society

The Greatest Show On Earth (1952) - IMDB

Toby Tyler by James Otis

Other equine info

Henderson was apparently friendly with the Klebergs of the King Ranch, and their vet J.K. Northway, who recommended him to North. Ringling Bros., often bought King Ranch Quarter Horses for their show.


John Ringling North - owner of the circus

Dr. J.K. Northway - vet of the King Ranch

Alfred Court - animal trainer

Damoo Dhotre - trainer

John Sabo - menagerie superintendent

Dick Clemens - cat trainer

Walter McClain - elephant trainer

Rudolph Mathies - tiger trainer

Justino Loyal - horse act

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Very Young Rider (1977)

A Very Young Rider

Jill Krementz, author and photographer

1977, Borzoi Books, Alfred A. Knopf

This oversized photo essay chronicling the experiences of young rider Vivi Malloy is a classic much beloved by women who were horse-obsessed girls in the 1970s and 1980s. Beautiful, evocative black-and-white photos illustrate the everyday chores, training and life of 10-year-old Vivi and her chestnut pony Ready Penny. We also meet Vivi's family, trainer and various friends, and travel to horse shows where Vivi and her older sister Debby are competing. The action is narrated by Vivi, whose voice alternates between matter-of-fact steadiness about chores and riding, and gleeful excitement about special events like a trip to a big horse show.

Vivi is shown participating in Pony Club and doing chores common to all who own horses, but the core of the book is her participation in the world of elite hunter/jumper horse shows. Debby is in training with George Morris, former Olympic rider and de facto god of the hunter/jumper world, and Vivi's trainer is his assistant. Vivi and her sister show at Devon, Lake Placid, Harrisburg, Washington D.C., and Madison Square Garden - the cream of the horse show crop.

Plenty of women remember this book fondly; it's a very beautiful book and that alone made it attractive to a whole range of kids, from those who had Vivi-like aspirations of going to the big show to those who just yearned for their own pony. I was one of the latter and I found the whole show aspect alien; not negative but unimportant. It was the day-to-day routine of her and the pony I found so appealing, as well as the obvious bond between Vivi and Penny.

If you were/are into showing, though, it was catnip. The horse show sequences are a who's who of that era's show world: Gordon Wright, Frank Chapot, George Morris, Michael Matz, Buddy Brown, Kathy Kusner, Bert de Nemethy, Rodney Jenkins.

It is dated now beyond the bell-bottoms and the harness-free velvet helmets:

I love cotton candy but it's so fattening. When I get older like Debby, I'll have to go on a diet. Debby's always on a diet or else George gets after her. Once she went on a pure liquid diet and almost fainted in school. I have to watch my weight now a little bit. You don't want to get too heavy for your pony. There's nothing uglier than a fat rider on a horse.

Granted, this is a book of its time and that time was blithely unaware of the dangers of encouraging teenage and adolescent girls to obsess over calories to the point of fainting. Still, that last little tidbit is telling. Morris is nearly as famous for his outspoken personality as for his riding and coaching, and he has long had a very strong opinion on weight. As times changed and possibly as he mellowed, he's toned it down, but the stories that circulate about his youthful comments are hair-raising. Worth seeking out, by comparison, is his monthly jumping critique at Practical Horseman magazine, as well as the happy parody of same at Hillbilly Farms.

About the author

Jill Krementz (1940-___)

A New Jersey native, she was married to Kurt Vonnegut.

Other Books

A Very Young Dancer

A Very Young Skater

A Very Young Circus Flyer

A Very Young Actress

A Very Young Gardener

A Very Young Gymnast

A Very Young Musician

A Very Young Skier

How It Feels To Be Adopted

How It Feels When A Parent Dies

How It Feels To Fight For Your Life

How It Feels When Parents Divorce

How It Feels To Live With A Physical Disability

A Visit To Washington D.C.

Holly's Farm Animals

Jamie Goes On An Airplane

Lily Goes To The Playground

Zachary Goes To The Zoo

Sweet Pea: A Black Girl Growing Up In The Rural South

Black Writers

The Jewish Writer

The Writers Image

Writers Unbound

Links - the author

New York Social Diary - a bit about Krementz appears halfway down the page


Links - about the book

A May 1995 article about the book and its subjects at The Chronicle Of The Horse magazine. Extremely interesting, as it discovers what happened to everyone, ponies included; a pony nerd dream.

George Morris at Practical Horseman

Parody of GM's column at Hillbilly Farms

National Horse Show - originally at Madison Square Garden

The Devon Horse Show

Derby Hill, Buddy Brown's h/j training stable in California

Rodney Jenkins at The Showjumping Hall of Fame

Michael Matz at The Showjumping Hall of Fame

George Morris at The Showjumping Hall of Fame

Gordon Wright at The Showjumping Hall of Fame

Frank Chapot at The Showjumping Hall of Fame

Kathy Kusner at The Showjumping Hall of Fame

Bert de Nemethy at The Showjumping Hall of Fame

Sports Illustrated article about Dennis Murphy in the 1974 National Horse Show

Longview Farms, Dennis Murphy's h/j training barn in Alabama