Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Horse That Had Everything (1965)

The Horse That Had Everything
Newlin B. Wildes, il. Albert Micale
1966, Rand McNally & Company, American Education Publications

"Animals, animals," Kink said morosely. "The halt and the lame. They always seem to be with us."

Widower Kink Jonathan, an artist with a growing reputation, has chosen to live in rural Vermont with his 14-year-old son Rick, and they've gradually accumulated an assortment of animals. But Rick loves horses, and is a regular fixture at their neighbor's racing farm, where he forms an attachment to the crooked foal of the mare Never Fear. When the farm's cold-blooded owner, Slade Corcoran, decides to kill the crippled foal, Rick successfully begs him for another chance.

Rick raises the colt, who he eventually dubs Sans Peur, and with loving care and exercise the crooked leg straightens. And as the colt grows bigger and stronger and faster, the pressure mounts for Rick to turn his backyard pet into a racehorse.

This books holds an entertaining if typical premise, but is spoiled by a lack of pace. Wildes's writing is good enough piece by piece, with convincing action and a nice writing style -

Suzi took the saddle and bridle off Ulysses. He and the colt exchanged sniffs and got along, plucking grass side by side. They knew each other.

April is not the best month in Vermont. It often snows, the trees are still gaunt skeletons, the mud is not always gone. Nevertheless, there is promise of better things. Some days are, as the farmers' wives say, like a good apple pie: "warm in the middle and crisp around the edges." Cows are rough-coated in barnyards. Horses are shaggy, wandering in the fields searching for early blades of grass.

- but it doesn't have a natural flow. Scenes either inch along or jump sharply. Individual scenes are quite strong, but only for very brief moments and then the action lurches again. The major weakness, however, is the underlining of the major plot points instead of letting the reader infer them from the writing, which actually does a very good job if the author had only trusted it.

There are also two tedious minor plots in the growing awareness of the maturing Rick that neighbor Suzi isn't just an inferior girl anymore but a Girl, and the sometimes grating comparison between the big Thoroughbred San and Suzi's short, shaggy Morgan.

I read the book during this year's epic snowstorm, and seized on this bit -

Whenever there was a thaw and the snow became heavy and apt to cake on the colt's feet, Rick would rub butter all over the inside of San's hoofs to keep the snow from balling up there and twisting an ankle. "Darn expensive way to keep a horse's feet snow-free," Kink grumbled, when Rick disappeared with another quarter pound.

- to try with my dog, who also suffers snow buildup on walks. It works, but there are drawbacks. One, the dog clearly thinks you're mentally unstable for rubbing a stick of butter on her paws. Two, you end up taking a walk with hands coated in butter, which is great for dry winter skin but not so great for the general health of your mittens or your own sense of neatness. Three, it wears off fast, particularly if your dog discovers that her feet now taste great.

Equines and others
Ulysses S. Grant - Morgan gelding
Never Fear - grey Thoroughbred mare
Mon Oncle - Thoroughbred stallion
Sans Peur - grey Thoroughbred colt
Times Three - bay Thoroughbred colt
Abraham - donkey
Thomas Jefferson "TJ" Tibbs - large tiger cat
Albert - Plymouth Rock rooster

The New England-based Wildes worked for Photoplay and then joined Curtis Publishing at their Boston office in 1937. The 1942 Gene Autry western Heart Of The Rio Grande was based on one of his stories.

Other Books
The Best Summer (1965)

Short Stories - horse
"Young Man On The Way Up" in Wildfire, The Red Stallion and Other Great Horse Stories

Short Stories - various
The Saturday Evening Post, May 20, 1944 - "Gold In Your Backyard"
Companion, July 1945 - "Little Guy"
Companion, June 1946 - "Crazy Like A Fox"
Liberty, September 1947
Colliers, September 5, 1936 - "Foot In The Door"
Ladies Home Journal, April, 1946 - "A Matter Of Style"
"Powderpuf" - football

Illustrator - Albert Micale
An artist who specialized in comics, particularly Westerns, Micale's versions of Roy Rogers adventures are some of the most sought after by collectors. He also illustrated children's nonfiction, and some fiction.

Other horse-related books
The Best Summer by Newlin B. Wildes (1964)
The Capture Of West Wind by Rutherford B. Montgomery (1962)
Trouble At Paintrock: A Penny Of Paintrock Mystery by Jane and Paul Annixter

And because we mentioned Roy...
Trigger, the palomino stallion who was Roy's equine pardner, was (along with the singing cowboy's German Shepherd Dog, Bullet) stuffed after death. The two were auctioned off this summer, along with Dale Evan's horse Buttermilk and Trigger backup Little Trigger. Trigger and Bullet ended up with RFD-TV. The Nebraska-based cable network is named after the old U.S. Postal Service designation for rural addresses - Rural Free Delivery - and specializes in rural programming, from cattle auctions to bluegrass to Hee Haw. The two are now on tour to various appropriately themed events. RFD-TV has also revived a kids' fan club from the old Roy Rogers television show, the Roy Rogers Riders Club, which is unbearably bittersweet.

The Publisher
American Education Publication was a new one to me, so I googled. Apparently, it was the publisher of the school newspapers My Weekly Reader and Current Events, as well as other educational work, and owned by Wesleyan University Press until Xerox bought it in 1965. They changed its name to Xerox Education Publications in 1972.

Kiddie Matinees (for the AEP info)
Weekly Reader
A list of Wilds's short stories
Comic Creator about Albert Micale
Luxist about the auction of Trigger and Bullet
RFD's Happy Trails Tour


Christina Wilsdon said...

Thanks for the fun essay. And my dog is all over the suggestion that one rub butter on her paws. In fact, she is acknowledging that one could save a lot of time and mess by just feeding her the butter directly and skipping the whole paws bit...

AC said...

Very interesting. I did a college internship at the Xerox corporate archives, and I'm pretty sure they didn't have anything (then, at least) about Xerox Education Publications. A book like this one would have made a nice change after flipping through technical manuals all day.