Monday, February 27, 2012

Tic-Tac (1973)

Leslie Baird, il. Ted Lewin (jacket)
1973, Dodd, Mead & Company

“At first my parents tried to ignore how crazy I was about horses,” Terry explained.  “They thought I’d lose interest.  But when I fell off a few times and still kept riding, they decided I needed some good lessons so I wouldn’t break my neck.  We asked around and found Briar Hill was the best.”

Terry Allen learned to ride at a small farm with an easy-going teacher.  She’s now moved up in the world to hunter/jumper barn Briar Hill Farm and its German cavalry officer owner, Captain Riskin.  Her parents are only willing to spring for a summer camp – all too short – but Terry, like most horse-crazy heroines,  will find a way to keep riding.  But first she must overcome her initial reaction to Riskin’s stern teaching style.  She does, of course, and quickly becomes a favorite pupil.

Terry convinces her parents that riding is a real passion, falls in love with the Briar Hill horse Tic-Tac, tangles with the inevitable sulky brat, Paula, and learns how to deal with being both a barn rat at the mercy of impatient adult boarders and a member of a riding team. 

I’m reluctant to be too critical, both because this is a fond favorite for many people and because Baird was just out of college when she wrote it, inspired by her own experiences with a horse named Tic-Tac.   However, I was disappointed by this book.   The plot and the characters are reminiscent of a modern series book, and the writing lacks ease or style.   

The details are convincing – as they should be, considering author was a barn rat and young competitive rider – and the riding sequences are believable and lively:

Shady jumped all the fences in the same bold style until the last, a stone wall topped by two poles.  When she tried to charge at it, Paula checked her with the reins.  Angrily shaking her head, Shady wrenched the reins from Paula’s hands and took an extra long stride that put her almost on top of the fence.  She twisted acrobatically as she took off, nearly unseating Paula.

And I do like the ending, which manages to be both appealing and realistic. 

A few things are quibbles, more emotional reactions than anything else.  The crusty old cavalry officer/instructor is both a cliché and an asshole.  He’s frequently nasty, and there’s a nasty undertone to the interactions between the students.  Terry notices and is burned by this a few times, but her thirst for riding lessons overcomes her initial doubts and she works hard to impress the old goat.  Sorry.  It works, she becomes a favorite and rapidly learns to overlook his behavior or take pride in surviving his tempers.  

I can see why it’s a favorite, actually.  It has a lot of horsey details of the sort that probably stuck in a lot of readers’ heads forever – how to enter a stall safely, why you shouldn’t let your horse barge into the hindquarters of the horse ahead, how to groom, how to clean a saddle…  That sort of thing is pure joy for a horse-crazy kid.  They’re the equine equivalent of 30 pages of deathly prose about how the spaceship flies – most people groan and skip to the space battle, but genuinely nerdy sci-fi fans dig in.  I just wish the space battle here had been better.

Tic-Tac: brown 4-year-old TB/QH gelding.
Red Sunset
Shady Lady
Irish Mist
Bachelor Boy
Merry Chase

About the Author
b. 1950
An impressively busy child who competed in figure skating and horseback riding, Baird became an equally busy adult who published books of poetry while still in college and this book just one year later.  She has coached figure skating, operated an equine trade show, and rides and trains at her own dressage farm in Ohio.

There’s also a website connected to Down The Aisle, which appears to be from 2011.

Other books
The Smile Of Concrete Angels (poetry)
Open Corners (poetry, with husband Jeff McDonald)
Making Magic: Breeding and Birthing A Healthy Foal (with Meredith Weller, DVM)
Down The Aisle (memoir)

Short Stories
“Lessons With The Master” in Horse Tales For The Soul, Vol. 6
“Flo’s Passion” in Along The Way (Golden Hills Press)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Many of my favorite illustrators did a lot of Western-themed pictures.  Most of these artitsts were from the mid-20th century, when the romance of the West was still strong in the book and magazine world, and many of them could make a living on commercial art centered on Westerns.  And perhaps more to the point, many of them actually had ranch backgrounds.  Here's a very small sampling of great equine illustrators' takes on what is probably the quintessential Western image  - the bucking horse. 

C.W. Anderson, Sketchbook 
I tend to associate Anderson with the East due to his many Thoroughbred racehorses and jumpers, but he was born in Nebraska and he had a flair for action, whether it was the sunfish of a rodeo star or the surge of a steeplechaser.

Lorence Bjorklund, Gentle Like A Cyclone

Like Anderson, Bjorklund was a Swedish-American who moved from flyover country to New York and became an artist.  In his case, he was born in Minnesota and began doing Western illustrations early, earning money during art school doing illustrations for pulp Western magazines.

Will James, Scorpion

In a reversal of the above artists, Will James was born to a city (Quebec) family, and left home to become a cowboy.  Always an enthusiastic artist, he only focused on it after being bucked off a horse and seriously injured.

William Moyers, Broomtail

Moyers was from Georgia, but moved to Colorado as a teenager and ended up competing in rodeos.  He went west for art school, to Los Angeles, and worked for Disney.