Monday, March 15, 2010

Vicki And The Black Horse (1964)

Vicki And The Black Horse

Sam Savitt, author and illustrator

1964, Doubleday and Company

"I've never heard of anything like it. That black horse couldn't have impressed me more if he'd won a blue ribbon at Madison Square Garden. Standing out there like that - waiting for you to cut him free." He shook his head, scratching the back of his neck. "Beats me! The most remarkable thing was the confidence he had in you. Somehow he knew you would help him if he waited. And you didn't let him down!"

Vicki Jordan has just freed her father's black Thoroughbred, Pat, who she adores, from a tangle of barbed wire. The horse emerges unscathed because he doesn't panic, and Vicki's father is bemused by the bond between his daughter and his horse. Smilingly, he promises her that pony she's always dreamed of. And Vicki is silent. What she wants is Pat. The former racehorse had come to Random Farm sick and used up, and the girl had devoted herself to his care. But Dan Jordan can't see past his daughter's youth, and she seems destined to yearn for the big horse. Sucking it up, she decides to focus on the promised pony. When her very first buying expedition turns up a starving, neglected creature far too small for her, Vicki impulsively buys him to save him.

The mane was ragged and dragged along the ground. Vicki bent over and lifted it to reveal the shrunken neck and bony shoulder. She let her hand wander aimlessly over the scrawny hide stretched tight as a drum around the emaciated body. It was sticky, gray with grime, swarming with flies. She crouched down to examine the hairy legs and long, cracked hooves that badly needed trimming. There was an ache in her throat as her eyes took in the flanks that sucked inward and the hipbones that pushed outward, threatening to break through the skin. She stepped back and walked behind the pony, noticed the tent-shaped rump and the concave sides and the tail - long, greasy, knotted with burs.

Even half-dead, Jesse (as he comes to be called) is a firecracker. Vicki's macho older brother assumes, wrongly, that one football hero can easily handle one skin-and-bones Shetland; it won't be the first time someone underestimates the little animal. Exasperated by Jesse's trouble-making, escape artist ways, Vicki considers selling him. What stops her is Pat. The black horse, long the only equine on the farm, has fallen in love with Jesse. Surely, though, Pat will get over it if Vicki sells Jesse to a good home and buys herself a pony she can actually ride?

Although Savitt was primarily an artist, his writing is evocative and concise. The action sequences are clear and intelligent:

That first buck put Vicki astride his neck, the second pointed her wildly thrashing legs to the heavens. She came to earth on her backside as Jesse and the other ponies shot past in a shower of dust and flying hunks of dirt.

The plot moves unhurriedly but without excess, and the language is rich.

He would love a hot mash tonight - bran and oats and molasses and hot water made the most delicious-smelling concoction. She tasted it occasionally as a mother samples a dish before giving it to her baby.

Best of all, the ending is perfectly handled, with dual happy endings for humans and equines.

Drawbacks include a fair amount of sexism- Vicki idolizes her daddy and her older brother, a female neighbor has hysterics after a riding accident, forcing Mr. Jordan to sternly calm her - and a slight lack of character development in humans other than Vicki. There is a certain smugness to the adult male characters - they're pleasant men, but blithely obnoxious, as with Dan Jordan's belief that no one but him can ride Pat.


Giant Pat, aka Pat - black Thoroughbred gelding with a star

Jesse James the Outlaw, aka Jesse - black and white Shetland pony gelding

Rocky - Irish Setter

Teddy - goat

About the Author/Illustrator


Savitt wrote and illustrated dozens of books, and his portraits of horses and dogs are well-known. He lived on a farm in North Salem, New York, was married and had two children. He spent several years as the official artist for the U.S. Equestrian team. Several of his drawings are held at the National Sporting Library.


Sam Savitt website

New York Times obituary

Horse Art - Sam Savitt

National Sporting Library

Fiction written by Savitt

The Dingle Ridge Fox And Other Stories

Wild Horse Running

Midnight, Champion Bucking Horse

Step-A-Bit, The Story Of A Foal

A Horse To Remember

Vicki And The Black Horse

Vicki And The Brown Mare

Nonfiction written by Savitt

Draw Horses With Sam Savitt

The Art Of Painting Horses

Great Horses Of The U.S. Equestrian Team (with Bill Steinkraus)

One Horse One Hundred Miles One Day (about the Tevis Cup)
Rodeo Cowboys, Bulls And Broncos
Sam Savitt's True Horse Stories

Other editions:

Scholastic Apple paperback, 1989


AC said...

What a great idea for a blog! I just found it and I'm going through the archives, searching for my favorites. Many of my favorite horse stories were published or excerpted in thick anthologies from the 50s and 60s. Have you reviewed any of those collections?

Sarah said...

I've only published one anthology so far, High-Stepping Horses, from 1963.

I'm working on reviews of other anthologies. I love them too, but they tend to take longer to write because there's more to do - more quotes, more mini-reviews, more author research - than with a novel. I'll finish up some and start publishing them soon.