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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Horse Stories

Thanks to everyone who's been reading and especially to those of you who have left comments. I appreciate the encouragement and dialogue and hope others will jump into the conversation.

There was no post yesterday because, after I closed the bookstore, Bonnie and I took advantage of a beautiful, warm, sunny day to go riding. I rode her husband's horse, Jet, a wonderful, sweet, gentle black-and-white paint, Bonnie rode Scout, and the world we moved through was Eden. The picture here is of Pawnee, Scout and PJ, taken early in the summer. Yesterday the camera was definitely upstaged by the direct experience.

"Horses make the landscape look more beautiful," wrote Alice Walker. Horses lift my heart and bring tears to my eyes. They are the embodiment of perfect grace. How can we be worthy of all they give?

I've had and loved dogs, most recently (and loved most deeply) our beloved Nikki, and I've loved dog stories and books since childhood. There's HARRY THE DIRTY DOG, which my son and I enjoyed in his childhood; GINGER PYE, read first when I was in grade school and again and again since (sharing it with grade schoolers at Northport School a few years back, I enjoyed it every bit as much as they did); the heart-breaking DOG OF FLANDERS, which I did not read until adulthood; books by Albert Payson Terhune; modern treasures like THE SECRET LIFE OF DOGS. I don't understand people who don't respond to dogs. Our species have co-evolved. Would we even be human without them? I could never love a horse more than I loved Nikki. And yet--.

Where do feelings for horses come from? I've decided lately that my own feelings must be genetic. Seeing them, being near them, touching them, smelling them--why should this make me so happy?

Neither of my parents ever had horses, and yet, out on the plains of South Dakota, before uttering my first word of English, I was shrieking with delight at the sight of a horse, quieting only when my parents threatened not to point out horses to me any more if I didn't stop screaming in the car. My father's father loved horse racing and always went to the Kentucky Derby. He dreamed of starting a pony farm in Florida when he retired from the Pennsylvania Railroad. (He and I got a lot of mileage out of that dream.) I never knew my mother's father, but he was Irish. My father took me to a riding stable on occasion when I was a little girl, leading me around the ring on "Linda," the oldest mount in residence.

Despite the dreams, my grandfather never got his pony farm, and I have yet to have a real horse of my own, but, thanks to books, in my imagination I have had the most magnificent of horses.

Marguerite Henry's unforgettable stories, so perfectly illustrated by Wesley Dennis, captivated me early and have never lost their charm. Say "Chincoteague," and my first response is "Misty!" I learned about famous race horses from Marguerite Henry. Of all her books, BLACK GOLD was far and away my favorite. "He finished the race! On three legs and a heart, he finished it!" I am quoting by heart and may not have the race announcer's words exact, but they give me shivers even now as I type the words.

My all-time favorite horse series author, though, was Walter Farley: THE BLACK STALLION; THE ISLAND STALLION; and every sequel about the Black and Flame. When the film version of "The Black Stallion" came out, I was afraid of disappointment but couldn't stay away. Alec should have been older--otherwise, no complaints. From the moment that horse reared onscreen, I was ten years old again, enthralled. THE BLACK STALLION ranks right up there with WIND IN THE WILLOWS in my personal list of childhood classics. I remember my grandfather borrowing and reading my library copy of THE BLACK STALLION'S FILLY, sweat popping out on his forehead as the filly took the lead in the Derby. And THE ISLAND STALLION! The unbelievably mysterious, romantic, magical setting, that hidden world! I'm very pleased that these books are available in modestly priced paperback reprints so I can stock them at Dog Ears Books for young horse-crazy readers.

The novel THE HORSE WHISPERER wasn't what I'd expected. I wanted to read about horses, not romance. (For romance, give me Jane Austen.) Better for horse thrills are the books of Monty Roberts, the real-life horse whisperer. His writing can be repetitious, but who cares? His stories are real. He changes lives, those of horses and people, for the better, and he's one of my heroes.

Three years ago a holiday picture book for children appeared called WINTER'S GIFT, by Jane Monroe Donovan, who also illustrated her story. On the cover, in a snowstorm, is a lone horse, heavy in the belly, wind at its back. My favorite new book that season was a shoo-in.

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