Monday, September 27, 2010

The Problem Horse (nonfiction)

I saw this little book on the shelf at a library, in amidst more typical old books like How To Ride Western (1970's era with copious dusty black and whites of Quarter Horses) and glossy newer books with titles like Buying Your First Horse. Despite the helpful practicality of the other titles, this sort of period piece draws my eye.

I know this blog is supposed to be fiction, and mostly American, but who could resist these illustrations?

It's smoother, but some of it reminds me of Paul Brown's work. It's that combination of action-striated lines with idealized, slightly vague backgrounds.

Wikipedia on the author

Books by Summerhays
Here's Horse Sense

From Saddle to Fireside

Elements of Riding

Elements of Hunting

Riding For All

Observer's Book of Horses and Ponies

The Problem Horse

It's A Good Life With Horses

Summerhays' Encyclopedia for Horsemen

Our Horses Horses and Ponies

Riding on a Small Income

The Story of the International

The Young Rider's Guide to the Horse World

A Lifetime with Horse

About John Board
A polo player and illustrator.

Books by Board (author)

Horse And Pencil

A Year With Horses (1954)

From Point To Point


Horses And Horseman

Practical Horsemanship In Show And Field

Books by Board (illustrator only)
Horseback Riding by C.E.G. Hope

Work included in anthologies
The Horseman's Bedside Book (1964)
The Horseman's Year 1958

More examples of Board's art
Blacklock's Polo Art website

Sunday, September 19, 2010


"Fear and her walk on different sides of the street."
Phantom, Son of the Gray Ghost by C.W. Anderson

It takes one of two things to ride a horse - the boldness of assuming you'll be fine, or the courage of confronting your fears that you won't. Sally in Phantom is perhaps the typical heroine of a horse book - bold and energized by a challenge, wholly trusting in her horse, a sensitive and intuitive rider who can bring out the best in any horse no matter how dull or high-strung.

Others struggle with fear. Sometimes it's brought on by a bad accident and sometimes it's an initial caution about riding, but it is always intense because the heroine almost always loves horses and the fear means a lack of ability to be perfectly with them, and because the world of riding is still, despite its domination by women, desperately macho and there is a tremendous shame in being afraid, in losing one's nerve.

Over the past three years the gray horse had given me a pretty rough time - no doubt about that. I had hit the ground, bounced back and hit the ground again, and aside from bruised bones and charlie-horsed muscles, never gave it a second thought. But with each successive jolt a little more heart was knocked out and always a little less returned.
There Was A Horse by Sam Savitt

Judy pulled the tan jodphurs over her slim legs. She fumbled at the belt with hands that trembled. Biting her lip she tried to steady her jangled nerves. She knew this was utterly ridiculous but try as she might she could not put aside the panic that came over her. Judy who loved riding more than anything in the world was now approaching her daily riding class with a cold fear that clutched at her heart.
Afraid To Ride by C.W. Anderson

"How about taking Calico over the low hurdle just once?" But Sue shook her head. All she could think of was the pounding of the mare's hoofs on the woodland bridle path, the growing feeling that she was out of control, then the sudden terror, the panicky tugging at the reins as she went into the jump, the sensation of falling, falling...
Spurs For Suzanna by Betty Cavanna

Wendy wanted to scream at them, to tell them that it didn't matter if the horse was gentle or not. "I don't know," she said softly after a moment. "I don't want to be afraid, but I can't seem to help it."
Gypsy From Nowhere by Sharon Wagner

Luckily, there are always people to help our heroes out.

"They're not especially brave," he told Sue thoughtfully. "They love to jump. They get a lift out of it. It's great sport. Brave people are people who are scared, like you, and still manage to conquer the things they're scared of."
Spurs For Suzanna by Betty Cavanna

Mr. Jeffers paused a moment and then continued. "I don't know if you will ever feel like riding again, but don't cut yourself off from horses because of it. Think of the thousands who go to horse shows and races who have never ridden. Let yourself enjoy seeing them without being a rider. With you I've always felt it was part of your life."
Afraid To Ride by C.W. Anderson

When I was young and starting out, I was afraid. Then I got over it. Just as you will. When you want to do something very much, you just do it. I always loved horses and I wanted to ride more than anything else on earth. So I had to overcome my fear. And I did."
A Morgan For Melinda by Doris Gates

And then, there are the people who don't understand.

"Are you that shook up over your first ride?"
"Yes, I am. I could maybe go back and ride Sam again. But I don't feel up to another strange horse right now. You've just got to understand, Dad."

He nodded and made a left turn, heading home.
"It's just hard for me to understand people who are afraid of horses, that's all. Especially my own kid."
A Morgan For Melinda by Doris Gates

There are other sorts of fear in pony books, of course.

"Oh, God, give me horses, give me horses! Let me be the best rider in England!"
National Velvet by Enid Bagnold

Like Velvet praying for horses, a few horsey heroines suffered the worst fear - that they would never to get a horse at all, or not until they were adults and far beyond hope.

She was nearly twelve and soon it might be too late... people should start riding at ten. If you did not learn to ride as a child, you would never acquire a good seat [the book] said... Fly-By-Night by K.M. Peyton

... I was twelve and terrified in case I should die before I had ridden in the Horse of the Year Show at Wembley...
Dream Of Fair Horses aka The Fields Of Praise by Patricia Leitch

Anyway, we'll have to do something before we get too old." Pip pushed her black bangs straight up into the air. "If we don't hurry, we'll be grown up. Then I suppose we won't even care about horses anymore. Grown people don't seem to."
Borrowed Treasure aka Shooting Star by Anne Colver

I'll let Mr. Jeffers, the quintessential Anderson mentor figure from Afraid To Ride, have the last word.

"I know," Judy said miserably. "I just can't bear to look at them. I've lost my nerve. I'm such a coward."
"Don't ever say that again," said Mr. Jeffers sternly. "I've watched people for more years than I care to remember and I never use that word. I've seen the timid, the bold and the foolhardy, and there's not that much difference between them when it comes to real courage."

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Crumb (1976)

The Crumb

Jean Slaughter Doty

1976, Greenwillow Books (William Morrow and Company)

It took me all of two seconds to yank on my jeans and jacket and set out for the hills on The Crumb. It was a lot colder than it had been the day before. The wind was damp and clammy and blew the pony's tail in all directions, which he hated, and he actually managed to dump me off by bucking through an open gate. I was insulted, the pony was cross, and we were barely communicating by the time we got to the back woods again.

Cindy Blake is riding her pony, formally dubbed Buttercrumb Cake and informally known as Crumb, through the fields near her home when she encounters the spooky vision of a horse van lurching through an old cow pasture. Instinctively hiding, she watches as two men unload a horse into an old hay barn, lock the door and leave. Perplexed, she investigates but the barn is firmly locked, the horse inside just a sad whinny. Still curious, she returns the next day but the lock is gone, the horse is gone. All that remains is some hay, a water stain and a hypodermic needle. Frustrated, Cindy shrugs and moves on to other concerns. Primarily, how to keep one pony fed, shod and clad in appropriate winter blankets.

Shyly, Cindy ventures to a nearby barn, a new and high-flying show barn run by the pleasant Jan Ashford, and lands a job as a groom, show helper and all-around gopher. Her liking for Jan makes it doubly confusing when that sinister horse van arrives with the same men inside. One is pro rider and trainer Alex Russell and the other is his groom, Dan. Worried and curious, Cindy decides to say nothing of the weird events in the hay barn - Alex isn't a permanent fixture, after all, and his presence at Ashford is an indication of Jan's kindness. She'd offered him a temporary wing of the stables when his own had burned down.

Alex, an unfriendly sort, has a dubious reputation as a rider but one fantastic horse, the jumper Cat Burglar, has changed his life. Like many people, Cindy envies him the horse and the chance it's given him to hit the big show circuit. But Alex is not very welcoming to fans, and she contents herself on the friendly side of the barn, with the kids and their ponies.

The early show season was about to begin and there was a lot to do. Every saddle and bridle had to be checked over and a single frayed stitch or the least trace of wear was enough to mark for repair or replacement. Shipping bandages were washed and dried and rerolled for each pony. Blankets, fly sheets and waterproof rain sheets and woolen coolers were shaken out, cleaned if neccessary, and refolded into each pony's own tack trunk.

Cindy's other problem is discovering there's an ugly side to horse shows. When she learns about trainers drugging ponies, cheating and using their connections to keep them showing, she's shaken. Big money, as her brother says, means big trouble, and she's swimming in far from comfortable waters as she moves from local fun shows and backyard ponies to professional shows and expensive ponies. Jan's a good person and Ashford Farms is a decent place, and Cindy believes she can take the good without having to deal with the bad. But reality can't be shut out. At a big show during a brutal heat wave, the truth comes out in the most painful way possible.

Two moments in particular are haunting and honest. In the first, Cindy thinks ragingly of the terrible unfairness of things:

I'd loved my pony, I'd taken good care of him and treated him kindly and called for the vet whenever anything went wrong, while the Alexes of the world went on their lucky way over the broken-down horses they ruined without a second thought.

The second moment is the final line, which needs to be read with the rest of the book, in time, and is a heartbreaker.

This is a very concentrated book. I didn't realize it until recently, but nearly all the action takes place at the one horse show. Most of Cindy's time at Ashford is compressed into a quick overview, and then, bang, we're at the horse show where everything happens. There are a number of very well-done flashbacks, so it's not as obvious as you'd think. It's not a flaw, just curious. The book moves along at a good clip, while still being tremendously realistic and satisfying.


Buttercrumb Cake, aka The Crumb - 14.1h dun pony gelding

Bright Interval - chestnut mare

Cat Burglar - brown gelding

Sam - gray Welsh pony

Whispering Sands - red bay Connemara/Arabian mare

Skipper - black and white pinto pony

About the Author


Jean Slaughter married cartoonist Roy Doty, with whom she worked on the local 1950's TV series The Danne Dee Show. She bred Welsh Ponies and Keeshond dogs at Rockrimmon Farm in Conneticut. She is elusive online. I did come across an online real estate listing for a property formerly known as Rockrimmon Farm in Simsbury, CT, but I don't really know if it's the same one, though the name is clearly a match and she did tend to set her books in the state.

Other Books - fiction
Summer Pony
Winter Pony

Can I Get There By Candlelight?

Monday Horses

Dark Horse

Yesterday's Horses

If Wishes Were Horses

Valley Of The Ponies

Gabriel (dog)

Other Books - nonfiction

Pony Care

Horses 'Round The World

Horsemanship For Beginners


University of Southern Mississippi - de Grummond Children's Collection

Another review of The Crumb, at The Horse & Habit blog

Other Notes

Just wanted to mention - the Wyeth illustrations were all from Wikipedia Commons, not my own images. In the course of editing, I managed to delete that particular note when I wrote that post.

Sorry about the complete lack of illustrations for The Crumb. I will add it when I sort out my computer issues.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Illustrators - N.C. Wyeth

Once upon a time, there was a family of artists in Pennsylvania's most beautiful valley. Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945), the first to arrive in the Brandywine Valley, came to study with Howard Pyle, and the similarities are evident at a glance; lush, richly colored paintings that are just fantastic enough to be thrilling and just realistic enough to be stirring. N.C. was just the start, though. Two daughters and one son became artists, one daughter a composer. Andrew, his most famous son, had a son who also became an artist.

I have mixed emotions about the Wyeths; it is possible to get a little sick of local heroes. When you're from Philadelphia, there's a certain level of exhaustion surrounding Quakers, Ben Franklin and cheesesteaks. Never soft pretzels. But you see my point. There's something insufferably smug about the Wyeth franchise in the lovely, rolling countryside south of the city. The adorable and disturbingly pristine former grist mill that houses a collection of their work, and which exists as the Wyeth museum to all visitors, though it's formally called the Brandywine River Museum. The endless books about them in local libraries and bookstores. You can get this temptation to mutter "You know, the really big artist was Andrew and he actually seemed to prefer his place in Maine."

But the point here is that N.C., the original artsy Wyeth, did fantastic horse pictures. An illustrator, he created iconic images for several children's classics, including The Yearling and Kidnapped. Despite the fantasy elements he used here for the Arthurian legend, he was also quite the Western artist, and his cowboy paintings are also worth looking up. One thing I find very charming is the tendency his horses have of having vividly expressive faces. Look at the rolling eyes of the black knight's horse below, or the alarmed face on the brown horse of the cover - here are horses who are not quite happy with the shenanigans their riders have gotten up to.

The Brandywine River Museum
The Brandywine River Museum's N.C. Wyeth Catalogue Raisonné