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

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