Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dark Horse (1983)

Dark Horse

Jean Slaughter Doty, il. Dorothy Haskell Chhuy

1983, William Morrow and Company

The show was an absolute zoo. The parking area was jammed with vans and trailers. Little ponies with screaming kids on their backs zipped in and out like mosquitoes. Young horses spun and danced, others whinnied to their stablemates. A gray horse fell backwards out of the trailer next to our van, nearly squashing its frantic owner, who seemed more concerned about the grass stains now on the horse than the cut on its leg.

Abby has always loved horses and hung out doing odd jobs at any barn near the various homes her family has moved to, but now she's working at High Hickory Farms, an elite hunter/jumper barn whose married owners met on the Florida show circuit. To this farm comes, one fine summer day, a neglected brown horse they name Sandpiper.

At first, they try putting the skinny horse out in a remote pasture, to keep clients from seeing him. But Sandy quietly begins jumping out of the pasture. Intrigued, the owners have Abby try him out. And the horse just hops disinterestedly over each jump, showing no promise at all. It's not until an early fox hunt that Sandy proves he is a jumper, soaring over an enormous fence and leaving the huntsman bug-eyed.

So Sandy and Abby begin their show career in the jumpers, and quickly make a name for themselves. Though, as Abby never forgets, Sandpiper calls the shots. She simply rides as best she can and lets him make the decisions. And then one day Sandpiper decides he's done.

A funny sort of book. Doty's trademark sensible heroine who hangs out above her income bracket eating her heart out for a quality show horse, but a reverse here as the equine hero is a horse who doesn't want to show. Despite the show trappings, this is really a tribute to foxhunting.

There was a funny hush. And then a sudden rush of sound, like caroling. Sandy flung his head in the air with his ears strained forward and Shamrock gave a small jump of excitement. The air rang with music and I saw hounds running, spilling from the edge of the woods, pouring over the wall and out across the open field to our left. There was the call of the hunting horn mixed with the glorious sound hounds were making as the huntsman came crashing out of the woods on his huge bay horse, holding his short copper horn to his lips. The horn called in short, glad notes as he sent his horse into a rolling gallop after the flying hounds.

And part of the dedication reads:

and to the good field hunters, for their love of the sport, who are not the glory horses.

Well-written, very convincingly horsey and realistic.

Other editions

It was also released as a Scholastic paperback.

Other books by Author

Summer Pony

Winter Pony
Can I Get There By Candlelight?

The Crumb

Yesterday's Horses

If Wishes Were Horses

Valley Of The Ponies

The Monday Horses

Gabriel (dog)

Horsemanship For Beginners (nonfiction)

Pony Care (nonfiction)


Dorothy Haskell Chhuy also illustrated Doty's The Summer Ponies.


Sandpiper aka Sandy - tall brown gelding with narrow blaze

Shamrock - grey Connemara gelding

Azalea - grey Thoroughbred mare


Autumn Crocus - foxhunter mare

Frosty Pumpkin - chestnut gelding

Sea Glass - grey horse

Forever - white stable cat

1 comment:

Jane Badger said...

I really like this one - it's so rarely in pony book fiction that you meet a horse who actually prefers not to compete, rather than go and take all the ribbons at the obligatory end-of-book show. I'd forgotten how lovely the illustrations were, so thanks for posting them too.