Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Headless Horsemen, the Secretariat trailer, and the Kentucky Derby

The 2009 book Headless Horsemen: A Tale of Chemical Colts, Subprime Sales Agents, and the Last Kentucky Derby on Steroids Jim Squires came out in paperback yesterday. It's a fascinating read, particularly the sections on the evolution of sky-high yearling prices and the speculation that a long-time Churchill Downs vet essentially fixed the Derby for decades.

Just in time for the Kentucky Derby, Disney releases the trailer for its October Secretariat. From the trailer's tone, it seems to be an even more manipulative piece of handsome fluff than 2003's overrated Seabiscuit. But while Seabiscuit's story was of the comeback kid, combining genuine achievement with the ever-popular story of that magical second chance, Secretariat's is a tougher sell. What do you say about a freak of nature, a horse whose heart was literally - not choked-emotion-in-a-chord-swelling-speech - larger than normal? The trailer indicates that the filmmakers chose to focus on the horse's owner, and her challenges facing a male establishment at the dawn of the feminist era. All in bright, crazy Disney style, of course. But for once, that sturdy Disney hyperbole fits. At the end of the trailer, when an unseen man cries out "You about to see something you ain't never seen before!" it rings true. Secretariat's boringly simple story - great racehorse wins and wins and wins, and is declared a champion and wins some more - is an engine powerful enough to cut straight through the rags and tatters of a typical Hollywood horse story. Let's see if it does.

A regional publisher, Dementi Milestone, is bringing out a glossy book of Secretariat-related stories and photos in September. Secretariat's Meadow: The Land, The Family, The Legend by Kate Chenery Tweedy (daughter of Penny Chenery, Secretariat's owner) and Leeanne Ladin.

Returning from 1973... The field is set for 2010's Kentucky Derby. There's a filly in it for the first time since Eight Belles in 2008, the bay Devil May Care. NBC will cover the race from 4-6pm EST. The first 2 hours and 50 minutes will, of course, center largely on what celebrities are in the stands, interviews with long-suffering trainers and inane banter from the commentators.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Saddles For Breakfast (1961)

Saddles For Breakfast

Janet Randall, il. Paul Lane

1961, David McKay Company, Inc.

Curled dejectedly on her bed in one corner, Robin could barely hear her small radio above the noise of the ten-year-old twins, Drucy and Donna, playing across the room. She found herself envying girls who had rooms of their own. Once again the longing to escape swept over her.

16-year-old Robin Marshall is restless and dissatisfied with life in a small Oregon town. Desperate for a change, she persuades her parents to send her to work at the California riding school run by her cousin, Cora Galloway. Life at Sycamore Stable, in a canyon outside Los Angeles, is different than she expected - Cora and her 16-year-old son Butch are struggling to make ends meet after a girl was killed riding one of their horses the previous year. But Robin rises to meet the challenge of working with her hostile cousin Butch and makes a new friend in Paula. When Cora's laid up, Robin volunteers to stay over the winter and continue helping out.

Engaging, with a nice mix of teenaged angst and horsey interest. Robin struggles with homesickness, a hostile cousin, a snobby girl and her own insecurities, including an attraction to a college boy. Her first hurdle is handling the less-than-glamorous truth that Sycamore is a shabby hack stable, not the gleaming lesson barn of her imagination.

Her eyes swept the other horses. Even her untrained eye told her that they were a far cry

from the saddle animals at Greenbriar farm. A few, like one dainty black mare, appeared handsome and high-spirited, but others were well past their prime, with poor conformation or splints from long years of hard riding.

After that first shock, Robin learns to roll with the punches. She learns more about horses and riding at Sycamore than she had at her fancy barn back home, and discovers that her reactions to people - like the unflappable Val - can be colored by her own worries.

Leave it to Val to never lose that saucy self-assurance. For a moment she wondered if that was one of the reasons she found it so hard to like the other girl. There were so many times in her own life when she wasn't sure of herself at all.

A fun, quick read overall, though cousin Butch wears out his surly, bad-tempered welcome early. Robin's friends are acquired a bit too easily, and the pity Robin feels for her beleaguered cousins seems a bit overdone at times. Her next horse book, Pony Girl, was a smoother, more polished work although written for younger children.

Sycamore Stable horses

Pepper - mare

Peppito - foal

Ballerina - black mare

Rex- bay gelding

Dolly - black pony

Leo - bay gelding

Volcano - piebald gelding

Vixen - palomino mare

Sweetheart - gray mare

Major - chestnut gelding

Redbird - sorrel

Jericho - gelding

Fritz - bay gelding

Sorcerer - palomino gelding

Peanut - pinto pony

Tampico - gelding


Saddles For Breakfast (1961)

Pony Girl (1963)

Jellyfoot (1964)

Miracle Of Sage Valley (1958)

Burro Canyon (1964)


Tumbleweed Heart (1959)

Desert Venture (1963)

The Seeing Heart (1965)

Brave Young Warriors (1969)

Topi Forever (1969)

Buffalo Box (1969)

Island Ghost (1970)

The Girl From Boothill

with husband (as Jan Young)- Nonfiction
54-40 Or Fight: The Story of the Oregon Territory

To Save A Tree: The Story of the Coast Redwoods

Forged In Silver: The Story of the Comstock Lode

Liberators Of Latin America

Frontier Scientist: Clarence King

Simon Bolivar: The George Washington of South America

The Last Emperor: The Story of Mexico's Fight for Freedom

Reluctant Warrior: Ulysses S. Grant

The 49'ers: The Story of the California Gold Rush

Plant Detective: David Douglas

Empire Builder: Sam Brannan

Old Rough And Ready, Zachary Taylor

Seven Faces West

Pikes Peak Or Bust

Gusher: The Search for Oil In America

Mr. Polk's War

Anza, Hard-riding Captain

The Story of the Rocky Mountains

with husband (as Jan Young)- Fiction

Across The Tracks

Where Tomorrow?

Run, Sheep, Run (1959)

One Small Voice (1961)

Sunday Dreamer (1962)

Good-bye, Amigos (1963)

The Undecided Heart (1970)


I unfortunately have no access to the cover; an image is available at eBay

About the author


Jane Badger Books has a nice bit on Janet Randall's biographical information

About the publishing house

David McKay Company, Inc.was founded in Philadelphia in 1882 by a 22-year-old Scottish immigrant who'd begun working for J.B. Lippincott & Co. at the tender age of 13. During the 1930s, the company published some of the first comic books, including Popeye, The Phantom and Blondie and Dagwood. The publisher was located on Washington Square, heart of Philadelphia's venerable and now mostly departed publishing industry and to my mind the single most pleasant, most Philadelphian spot in the city after Independence Square, directly catty-corner to the north-east.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

News, etc.

24-year-old James Stierhoff wins the Maryland Hunt Cup on Twill Do after Across The Sky blows a 30-length lead with a refusal at the third-to-last fence.

Further south, the Rolex **** is chugging along despite tornado warnings and the haphazard routes of European riders to circumnavigate the volcano debris to reach the U.S. My lanky favorite, William Fox-Pitt, is currently in the lead on Cool Mountain. Fellow Brit Oliver Townend, who won Badminton and Burghley last year, fell from Cruise Master and was hospitalized. He and the other three people who fell on today's cross-country course all appear to be fine, and set to complete the competition.

William Fox-Pitt and Cool Mountain at the Head of the Lake, Rolex.

Rachel Alexandra is going to race for the second time this year, heading to Friday's La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs.

The first Saturday in May is closing in, and so the Derby stories are coming out of the woodwork. One of the more esoteric is that Major League Baseball coach Joe Torre owns a share of a Derby contender this year, Homeboykris (oh, the humanity).

And lastly, my alma mater, Rutgers, is holding its annual celebration in New Brunswick. Part of the weekend-long proceedings is an auction of horses used by the school to give students in the agricultural program hands-on experience in caring for and training young horses. In the past, Rutgers bought draft-cross foals from ranches out West that specialized in producing Premarin, an estrogen replacement for women, from pregnant mares' uring. This year, they branched out and also bought four mustangs from Nevada. Not all the horses sold last year; the economy has people cutting back. So good luck, RU Rambling Rose, RU Canella (pregnant), RU Casanova, RU Marley (mustangs), and RU Firedance, RU Pardner, RU The Good Witch, RU Shivna, RU Woodstock, RU Honky Tonk, RU Genesis, and RU Brisa (PMU horses).

The handsome mustang RU Casanova meets a stool for the first time.

Baltimore Sun
New Jersey Star Ledger - Rolex
Daily Mail - nasty photos of Townend's fall
ESPN Sports - Rachel Alexandra
Yahoo! Sports - Joe Torre
New Jersey Star Ledger - Rutgers mustangs
Rutgers - The Young Horse Teaching & Research Program

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Poetry Month

I stumbled upon the fact that this is National Poetry Month, so I went searching for poems. I wanted something a little different, and a little modern, and I've always liked Gluck.


What does the horse give you
That I cannot give you?

I watch you when you are alone,
When you ride into the field behind the dairy,
Your hands buried in the mare's
Dark mane.

Then I know what lies behind your silence:
Scorn, hatred of me, of marriage. Still,
You want me to touch you; you cry out
As brides cry, but when I look at you I see
There are no children in your body.
Then what is there?

Nothing, I think. Only haste
To die before I die.

In a dream, I watched you ride the horse
Over the dry fields and then
Dismount: you two walked together;
In the dark, you had no shadows.
But I felt them coming toward me
Since at night they go anywhere,
They are their own masters.

Look at me. You think I don't understand?
What is the animal
If not passage out of this life?

Louise Gluck

And a list of anthologies of poems about horses.

Poems About Horses by Carmela Ciuaru (Random House)
Say This Of Horses by C.E. Greer (University of Iowa Press)

by Jessie Haas (Google Books)
A Grass Green Gallop by Patricia Hubbell (cover image)
My Kingdom For A Horse by Betty Ann Schwartz (Henry Holt)
My Mane Catches The Wind by Lee Bennett Hopkins (cover image) il. Sam Savitt

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ride The Wild Storm (1969)

Ride The Wild Storm

Marjorie Reynolds, il. Lorence F. Bjorklund

1969, The Macmillan Company

"Every time he gives a little cough, you rush to him as if he were dying."

12-year-old David Lang is frozen in indecisive nervousness between his impatient father and his sickly mother. His father rages at his mother's coddling, and his mother weeps at his father's brusqueness, and David basically tries to cut off the sound of their twin whining while dreaming of horses, but he's a worried kid. Worried about his parents, who are talking divorce, worried about his asthma, worried about being shunted off to Nantucket as a paid guest of a local family for the summer, worried about his mother's bronchitis and his father's blatant dissatisfaction.

On Nantucket, the Macy family startles and confuses David, who's not used to the freedom to come and go without adult scruntiny - or to the blithe assumption that everything's fine unless you're actually bleeding. The tightly wound kid begins to relax a little, but what really kick starts his change is the mare Salty. The Macys agreed to care for the grey mare and sell her for her owners, who have moved off the island, but in the meantime David can ride her. And the tense, frantically worried David seems to loosen up almost the moment he meets the horse.

"Let's ride bareback," he said, although he had never done such a thing in his life.

With Bill Macy and his pony Pumpkin for company, David and Salty explore Nantucket. David, experiencing childhood freedom of movement for the first time in his life, thrills to every adventure, from getting lost in a fog to rescuing stranded swimmers. Bill, more prosaic, reminds him that Salty, the key to their shared transportation, will be sold sooner or later.

Very much a boy adventure, with the focus being on how Salty gives David freedom and autonomy. There is much less fascination with the horse as a beautiful animal or to the care of the horse than in the typical horse book starring a girl. David dearly loves Salty, and there are passages where he reflects on her beauty or gentleness, but it is an emphatically male POV. In most horse stories, a girl rescues a horse; here, a horse rescues a boy.

Reynolds had a few quirks which made her books a bit aggravating - an obsession with fat kids, a tendency to portray women as either sturdy and contented second fiddles or as weak ciphers (with men as strong, sensible alpha males) and some unlikely language - has any 12-year-old boy after 1900 really uttered the word "shall" in a casual conversation? The language itself is slightly stilted; it's clear and readable, but a little simple for the presumed audience.

As opposed to that is her depiction of a wonderful childhood summer running free across a unique island, galloping bareback on the beach, rescuing hapless people and becoming strong and confident. She vividly portrays a sense of a summer idyll on horseback, and Bjorklund's soft, dreamy art complements her style.


The Cabin On Ghostly Pond

A Horse Called Mystery

Sire Unknown

Dark Horse Barnaby

Keep A Silver Dollar

Ride The Wild Storm


Nantuckett, Massachusetts

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Old Sam, Thoroughbred Trotter (1955)

Old Sam, Thoroughbred Trotter

Don Alonzo Taylor, il. Lorence F. Bjorklund

1955, Follet Publishing Company

This book is mostly about what happened after we got to our homestead in the Dakota Territory, but I guess I better begin before that and tell how we got Old Sam and how he came to be crippled.

John Scott is 7 when a stranger passes by his family's Mississippi farm with a beautiful grey trotter tied to the back of his buggy. The horse slips on a bridge and breaks a leg, but when the stranger asks John's father to loan him a gun to put the horse out of his misery, the Scott children beg him to reconsider. The owner, already heartbroken, agrees to give them the horse, who makes a partial recovery. He has a crooked and shortened leg and a limp, but he does get back the use of the limb. And for a crippled horse he's surprisingly useful, able to pull a plow and a buggy.

Three years later, in 1882, the family moves west, settling on 480 acres on the Dakota prairies, in a region then known as "The Great American Desert." The family is relatively well-off, and with 12 other horses to do the grueling work of breaking a prairie into cultivated land, the grey is left to his own devices.

But Sam was not idle. He was always on the go - all over the place. He didn't follow us like a dog any more than we did him, for there were times when he would attract my attention with a short whinny and I would see him standing in the distance, his head up and his ears cocked forward, looking in my direction. That could mean only one thing, and I would call to Lee, "Hey, Lee, come on! Sam is waiting for us." He was just one of us, and that is how we treated him.

The cousins John and Lee have various adventures, usually involving Sam.

In the morning, a strange world was spread out before us. The day before, the prairie had been the light faded color of last-year's grass. But in the morning, as far as the eye could reach, the prairie was black as coal. No - not all of it was black. There was something else that attracted immediate attention. Standing out in sharp contrast to the black background were the white bones of thousands of buffaloes, a tragic reminder of the ruthless slaughter that had cleared the plains of these majestic animals in just a few years.

After a prairie fire, John and Lee get lost collecting buffalo bones (used back East as fertilizer and in sugar refineries) and Sam is called upon to find the route home. The horse does, reliable as a watch. But it's two years after the move that Sam moves back into his old world of racing. The boys, challenged by their family's conviction that their victory in an impromptu race was just a kind gesture by their adult opponents, secretly enter Sam in the Fourth of July trotting race against a field of adults driving sound, young horses, including the favorite, Chestnut Prince. When they get to the starting line, however, a combination of distaste for the spectacle of a crippled horse drawing a bulky farm wagon and an uneasy awareness that said crippled horse has a certain reputation for speediness provokes the other drivers to demands Old Sam's withdrawal. The cousins sadly comply, but when the starter shouts "Go!" Sam takes off.

This is far more a pioneer book than a horse book. The horse plays a recurring role and ties the stories together, but this was originally a series of stories the author told his children with the intention of recapturing his pioneer youth, and it's clear that his interest was largely in that experience. This in itself is an interesting story, of course, but it's a little disconcerting when you go in expecting a horsey book. The stories Taylor told his kids became a book when his grown daughter, Hazel Hohanshelt became a teacher and repeated the stories. Inspired by their interest, she began editing them into a book.


The book was reissued in 2008 under the title Old Sam: Dakota Trotter by Bethlehem Books.

About Don Alonzo Taylor


Married Jennie Anderson in 1901, and moved to Oakes, North Dakota. They had four children. In 1924, they moved to California, settling in Alpine, near San Diego.

About Hazel Taylor


Married Forrest Hohanshelt and taught school in Alpine, California.


On Google Books

Bethlehem Books

1882 Map of Dakota

Man standing atop mountain of buffalo bones

Buffalo bones being loaded onto train

Ellendale, North Dakota today

Alpine, CA Chamber of Commerce

Hazel Hohanshelt's obituary in the San Diego Union-Tribune


Old Sam, Thoroughbred Trotter

Old Sam And The Horse Thieves (sequel)

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Horse That Swam Away (1965)

The Horse That Swam Away

Walter Farley, il. Leo Summers

1965, Random House

Tena wore neither saddle nor bridle, and there was only a light halter on her head. Yet Tim could guide her with no trouble at all. She would run for miles and miles if he let her. There was scarcely a day that they didn't go fifteen miles down the beach and back.

Scant months earlier, Tim's family had moved south to a beachfront house on a remote Florida key for his father's health. To make up for his losing his friends, his parents gave him the Arabian mare Tena, with whom Tim has clearly established an instant, perfect bond.

One day the pair's usual adventures - herding a school of mullet in the shallows, fighting a nurse shark hooked on a fishing line, galloping along the beach - turns dangerous when Tena follows a porpoise out to sea. Desperate, Tim trespasses on the territory of a reclusive Native American named Billy Roundlegs, only to discover that Billy shares his trouble - the porpoise is his own runaway pet.

A very simply written book which doesn't approach the quality of the series for which Farley is famous, but then it is clearly intended for a younger audience. His love for the unique natural world of Florida is clear in every line, and the most compelling feature of the story.

Living in Florida wasn't the same as living anywhere else. You wouldn't have any fun at all if you were scared of things that might hurt you.

The horse-in-peril plot is a common one, but this slant - a horse swimming out to sea, at the mercy of the ocean and the predators therein - is unusual.

This book appears to have been based on a story Farley told his youngest child, a boy named Tim. The family had a home in Florida and owned Arabians, including a mare named Al-Marah Athena.


Al-Marah Athena "Tena" - chestnut Arabian mare


Al-Marah Arabians and breeder Ruth "Bazy" Tankersley are big players in the Arabian world in the U.S. Her breeding program, based on stock purchased from the famous Crabbet stud in England, helped make this particular line of Arabian horses extremely popular in America. There is a book about Al-Marah, And Ride Away Singing - the Breeding Philosophy of Bazy Tankersley and the History of Al-Marah Arabians by Mary Jane Parkinson.


Venice, Florida library - Walter Farley Literary Landmark

Mikasuki (Miccosukee) Indians

Al-Marah Athena's pedigree at Pedigree Online

Equine Vision magazine article on Al-Marah Arabians' history

Webcast of Al-Marah breeder Ruth "Bazy" Tankersley speaking on Arabians

Illustrator - Leo Summers


Summers specialized mostly in sci-fi magazines and adventure stories, but did a surprising number of horse books.

Horse books

Five True Horse Stories by Margaret Davidson

Wild Boy by Thomas Fall

Runaway To Glory by Alice E. Christgau

The Wild One by Eve Bunting

A Horse For All Seasons by Sheila Kelly Welch (short stories)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Illustrator - Milton Menasco

The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley has had any number of illustrators over the years, but one of my favorites was Milton Menasco. His muscular, physical horses were in direct contrast to the more stylized illustrations by Harold Eldridge and Keith Ward, and the colors in his cover paintings were intensely beautiful.

Milton Menasco

He started out in his native Los Angeles doing movie posters in the silent film era, worked in films themselves as art and set director, then in 1925 moved to New York City and advertising. After spending WWII painting battle scenes for Life magazine, he moved to Kentucky and specialized in horse portraits. He did commissions for some of racing's most famous people of some of racing's most famous horses; the people include Penny Chenery, John Whitney and Arthur B. Hancock, Jr., while the horses include Secretariat, La Troienne, and Nashua. He also did illustrations for a book about the Hancock family in Thoroughbred racing, From Here To The Bugle.

Books Illustrated - Walter Farley
The Black Stallion's Filly
The Black Stallion And Satan
Son Of The Black Stallion
The Blood Bay Colt

Books Illustrated - Other
Judging the Horse for Racing, Riding and Recreation by John F. Wall and Frank Jennings
From Here To The Bugle by Frank G. Jennings and Charles J. Calitri

His film credits at IMDB
His former home in Versailles, Kentucky

Links - examples of his art
Examples of his paintings at
Portrait of the racehorse Assault at
Pennsylvania Railroad poster, available at
Image of Son Of The Black Stallion at

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Fantasy Horse (2005)

The Fantasy Horse

Jenny Hughes, il. M. Stokes

2005, Pony, Stabenfeldt A/S

This next part makes me sound like a real show-off, but I knew everyone loved to see my pony do his act, so as Robert and the team left the ring, I curved Rocco away and cantered in a diagonal line across the grass. Rocco, his ears pricked, kept a smooth pace as I double vaulted from side to side, then he spun in a perfect turn on the forehand as I asked him to rear, lifting his forelegs and pawing the air like a wild stallion. I know it's not part of Pony Club training, but I discovered Rocco loves to learn all sorts of tricks since he came to me as a green young horse four years before.

Yes, Emma, this does make you sound like a real show-off.

Hot on the heels of their triumph in the Pony Club Games Championship, 14-year-old Pony Clubbers Emma Jessop, her best friend Alice and her old friend/maybe boyfriend Robert are invited to take part in a promotion for a new theme park's opening. The festivities at Adventure Land's Fantasy section will include an equine drama, as 'rival tribes' go to war. The kids and their ponies audition for parts as tribesmen and their horses, and make the cut, happily settling into the new, luxe in-park hotel. Also making the cut is a genuine TV actor, Troy Mitchell, who sends the teenage girls' hearts racing. Except Emma, who shrugs off his fame with the comment that she's never seen his show. Except that Troy, who isn't much of a rider, makes a slightly calculating play for Emma, already known as that amazing rider with that amazing pony Rocco. Meanwhile, a mystery breaks out when several hotel rooms are trashed and things are stolen, and then accidents begin happening. Are they aimed at Troy, or at the park?

A modern hothouse of teen lust and jealousy interspersed with straight-from-the-olden-days British gush. I've never seen so many exclamation points in my life!!!!!!

To say the time dragged slowly is like saying double geography is not the favorite period of my timetable. Stating the obvious or what!

Very much a teen story with horsey elements, all intended for a tween audience. When I was a tween (not that we labored under that description then) we all read Sweet Valley High and V.C. Andrews, so clearly, it's an age group with a deeply generous and forgiving heart.


This is a book from the mail-order series PONY, run by Norwegian publisher Stabenfeldt International. Despite the similar name and the participation of the characters in this book, the series and publisher are not affiliated with the Pony Club organization.


Rocco - black

Juniper - grey

Paint - pinto

Other Books

The Dark Horse
A Horse By Any Other Name

The Painted Horse

The Horse From Nowhere

The Mystery of The Golden Horse

A Horse Called Gem

The Chasing Horse

Mystery At Black Horse Farm

The Horse In The Mirror

Legend Of The Island Horse

A Horse Called Trouble

The Horse In The Portrait

Hero Horse

The Iron Horse

The Sea Horse
Milo (dog)


Author website



Sweet Valley High at

Cover of Double Love (1983), the book that started it all - OMG, LOOK AT THAT JEAN JACKET...

The VC Andrews website