Thursday, January 31, 2013

If you hate football like I hate football...

... you can now watch the 2013 Budweiser commercial (ie, the one with the big Clydesdales) without sitting through the Super Bowl.  It's a cute one, complete with a week-old foal, bittersweet rock classic "Landslide," and two handsome leads.
Which makes me want to write a review of a book starring a draft horse.  I can only think of one, off-hand, Jessie Haas's Uncle Daney's Way, which is very good.  Any other suggestions?  There must be other draft horse heroes out there!  I rode a Belgian a few years ago (my height seems to inspire the "You must want a giant horse" in stable owners) and once I stopped staring down at the very, very distant ground, it was wonderful.  Cantering up a gentle hill, my big blonde farm horse breasting through tall grass and flowers, I lived out simultaneous fantasies of being a knight, a princess, and any one of several dozen English country-house drama heroines.  For that atypically perfect experience, I salute the draft horse.   

Random Note
I came across a very entertaining article online for aspiring fantasy writers who feel the need to put their knight, elf or fairy princess on horseback.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gentle Like A Cyclone: Stories of Horses and Their Riders (1974)

Gentle Like A Cyclone: Stories of Horses and Their Riders
Selected by Phyllis R. Fenner, illustrated by Lorence F. Bjorklund
1974, William Morrow and Company

Two excellent stories from Western author Jack Schaefer bookend this short collection of horse stories aimed at the young adult reader.  In the first, a cowboy reflects on a special horse and how trust can be lost; in the second, a rancher’s iron will meets a thief’s grim determination.  The H.E. Bates story about a dying mare is virtually unbearable to anyone who recognizes the panicky cruelty of a human in the midst of denial about a beloved animal’s ill health.  The others are solid – the South African drama of polio-crippled Helen and her mare Lucy, the fearful rodeo star staring down a final ride before retirement, a bad/good luck charm in colt form, and the rebel to the end of Breakneck Hill.  Only “Blood Royal” lacks; it’s a straightforward adventure story without much depth.

In the process of digging for author info, I came across the original Kirkus review of this collection.  I generally like Kirkus, but felt their review of this anthology was a bit harsh.  

The stories
“That Mark Horse” by Jack Schaefer, from the book The Plainsmen (1963)
“Blood Royal” by Montgomery M. Atwater
“Breakneck Hill” by Esther Forbes (can be read online at Google Books)
“Chiltipquin” by William Brandon
“Throw Your Heart Over” by Stuart Cloete
“Last Bronc” by Colin Lofting
“Lanko’s White Mare” by H.E. Bates
“Jeremy Rodock” by Jack Schaefer, from the book The Plainsmen (1963)

That Mark Horse
He was a big batch of damned good horseflesh, and he knew that and was proud of iti and he had a hell of a lot of self-respect.  He just plain wouldn’t be pushed around and that was that and I had to understand it.

A Western cowboy and a big Thoroughbred cross from the East form a partnership after a few misunderstandings.  When horse and rider confront a rodeo bull, one of them flinches and the other can’t forgive.

Blood Royal
A throwback to his Arab ancestors, Kentucky Roamer is worthless as a racehorse but invaluable in his new home with the U.S. Forest Service.

Mildly annoying for some sexist comments about the horse being too much for a woman to ride.

Breakneck Hill
“There’ll be no soap made out old Cuddy,” Gething interrupted him.  “I’ll ride him out – up to the top of Breakneck Hill and shoot him there.  You’d better begin the trench by noon.  When it’s dug, I’ll take him to the top and – “

An aged steeplechaser too rank for retirement is scheduled for death, to the relief of the abused grooms, but a sentimental impulse from his old jockey could prove tragic.

Luis Rodriguez, a sometime thief and bandit who dwells on both sides of the Mexican border, finds in the little red colt Chiltipiquin the worst and best luck of his life.

Throw Your Heart Over
Everything the mare did was wonderful.  The way she ate.  The way she drank from the bucket Herman brought her.  The way she rolled, kicking her legs in the air.  When she’d done all this, the horse came and stood beside the girl with her soft gray nose almost in her lap, while Helen stroked her face and pulled her ears.

Helen’s father, a farmer forced into other work by a drought, pushes his finances to the limit to buy his polio-crippled daughter the horse she longs for, and then to send her to a specialist.  The roan mare Lucy turns out to have a number of talents, including jumping.

Last Bronc
Eric Gordon yearned to be a rodeo star, and made it.  Now the former world champion is uncomfortable back home on his parents’ ranch, and knows his nerve is gone.  He wants to go home, to the ranch and to the girl next door, but first he has to prove – if only to himself – that he’s not a coward, that he’s not running away from the bucking horses.

Lanko’s White Mare
A long partnership between a man and his grey mare is marred on one bright morning when he becomes impatient with her age and slowness. 

A troubling, sad story.  It’s possible to read that Lanko’s rare anger at her tips the elderly horse over into a sudden decline – a reading which seems popular online – but it’s also possible to see it as a case of the owner becoming angry and frightened and violent when the subtle signs of decline become impossible to ignore. 

Jeremy Roddock
A hard-bitten rancher with a reputation for hanging horse thieves goes on the trail of three rustlers who mutilated his mares.  When he catches up with them, he honors his promise to the sheriff not to hang them – but has a punishment nearly as brutal in mind.  He begins to regret his plan when one thief shows unexpected stubbornness.

About the authors
Jack Schaefer (1907-1991)
A journalist and novelist best known for his book Shane.  Both stories here were taken from his 9-story collection for younger readers, The Plainsmen (which is, oddly, called The Plainsman in the front matter of this collection. 

Montgomery M. Atwater (1904-1976)
The Oregon native was an avalanche expert, skier and outdoorsman.  He wrote several fiction books, all with an outdoors theme, for young adults.  These include: Avalanche Patrol, Smoke Patrol, The Trouble Hunters, Hank Winton Smokechaser, Rustlers On The High Range, Cattle Dog, and The Ski Lodge Mystery.

Esther Forbes (1891-1967)
This short story, originally published in The Grinnell Review while she was still in college, won the O. Henry Prize for short stories in 1915.  She is most famous for her children’s novel Johnny Tremain (1943), which won the Newberry Award, was made into a movie and has never been out of print. 

William Brandon
I found only a possible link, and I’m not at all sure it’s the same person, so am not including it.

Stuart Cloete (1897-1976) aka Edward Fairly Stuart Graham Cloete
A South African novelist and short story writer, Cloete frequently wrote historical and post-apocalyptic fiction.

Colin Lofting
I believe this is Colin MacMahon “Skipper” Lofting, a son of Dr. Doolittle author Hugh Lofting.  Colin appears to have spent much of his youth out West, and wrote a great deal about the rodeo world.  Back East, he married into a Pennsylvania family who lived near the East Coast outlet of the King Ranch cattle operations. 

H.E. Bates
Herbert Ernest Bates (1905-1974)
A prolific writer best known for his Uncle Silas stories.  He also wrote a series of children’s books about a donkey.

About the Author
Phyllis Reid Fenner (1899-1982) was a 1921 graduate of Mount Holyoke College and a librarian for many years at an elementary school in New York state.  She wrote extensively on library science, and amassed 34 collections of stories for children.  This secondary career reportedly began after a comment to a publisher that she kept a list of horse stories on hand for certain children.

*largely from Pioneers and Leaders in Library Services for Youth (2003), ed. Marilyn Miller; text available at Google Books

Collections by Fenner

Midnight Prowlers: Stories of Cats and Their Enslaved Owners
Elephants, Elephants, Elephants
Dogs, Dogs, Dogs

Behind The Wheel: Stories of Cars on Road and Track
Speed, Speed, Speed: Stories of Race and Chase in Hot Rods and Jets, Trains and Planes, Submarines and Speedboats
Where Speed Is King: Stories of Racing Adventure
Crack of the Bat: Stories of Baseball
Kick Off:  Stories of Football

Consider The Evidence: Stories of Mystery and Suspense
Contraband: Stories of Smuggling The World Over
Danger Is The Password: Stories of Wartime Spies
Desperate Moments: Stories of Escape and Hurried Journeys
Finders Keepers: Stories of Treasure Seekers
Open Throttle: Stories of Railroads and Railroad Men
The Dark And Bloody Ground: Stories of the American Frontier
Yankee Doodle: Stories of the Brave and the Free
Circus Parade: Stories of the Big Top
Feasts And Frolics: Stories for Special Days
Giggle Box: Funny Stories for Boys and Girls
Cowboys, Cowboys, Cowboys
Indians, Indians, Indians
Pirates, Pirates, Pirates
Heroes, Heroes, Heroes
Fools And Funny Fellows: More Time To Laugh Tales

Folktales and the Supernatural
There Was A Horse: Folktales From Many Lands
Ghosts, Ghosts, Ghosts
Time To Laugh: Funny Tales From Here and There
Demons And Dervishes: Tales With More-Than-Oriental Splendor
Giants And Witches And a Dragon Or Two
Princesses And Peasant Boys: Tales of Enchantment
With Might and Main: Stories of Skill and Wit

The Hunter and the Hunted: Stories of Forest and Field
Perilous Ascent: Stories of Mountain Climbing
Stories Of the Sea
Full Forty Fathoms: Stories Of Underwater Adventure*

The Price Of Liberty: Stories Of The American Revolution
Brother Against Brother: Stories of the War Between The States
Over There!: Stories of World War I
No Time For Glory: Stories of World War II

*Which is reviewed briefly on the website Classic DiveBooks, which I had to mention as, well, we who are obsessed with weird niche publications really need to stick together…

Montgomery M. Atwater papers at the University of Oregon
Montgomery M. Atwater on Wikipedia
1964 article on avalanches by Atwater
“Breakneck Hill” on Google Books

Pal The Pony (1996), Shetlands in sweaters, and the only reason to watch the Super Bowl

Latest online cuteness - Shetland ponies wearing cardigans, courtesy of Scotland's geniuses of tourism.  I'm partly tickled by the ahhhh factor, partly by the Ancient Wisdom schtick they've got going with those shaggy little faces, and partly just amused that I stumbled across this on a fashion blog.

In other horses-can-sell-anything news, Budweiser's big Scottish mascots, the Clydesdales, will once again star in a Super Bowl ad.  I looked for a good past example, as the new one - showing a colt bonding with its trainer - won't air till February 3's big game, but thought this YouTube video of the training of the horses for previous ads was more interesting.  Also, amazing.  There's a bit where the horses all wheel around and line up that blows my mind.  I remember that ad, and always assumed it was somewhat special effects, as it involved 12 enormous horses galloping up to a line, 6 on each side, and stopping dead.  I can't even get an aged school horse to line up that well while I'm actually riding him. 

In keeping with the hairy pony theme -

Pal The Pony
R.A. Herman, il. Betina Ogden
1996, Grosset and Dunlap

A picture book starring a shaggy little pony who finds himself the star of the rodeo despite his lack of stature. Mild, beginner-reader story with cute illustrations.

Other work
There are several sequels: Pal And Sal, Pal Saves The Day, Pal And Sal's New Friend, Pal Goes To The Fair, and Sal To The Rescue.

Betina Ogden's art