Tag Archives: horses

The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley, 1941, Book Review

I relived some of the best moments from my childhood over the last two weeks as I shared the all-time greatest book ever with my boys. As a young girl, I spent a good deal of time dreaming of horses. And much of the blame for that can be laid at the feet of Mr. Walter Farley, author of The Black Stallion.

I remember the day my mom came home from the library and put that book in my hands. It honestly was a life-changing moment. I was in fourth grade at the time, and not yet an avid reader. But by the shipwreck in chapter two, Mr. Farley had me, hook, line and sinker. I was dragged through the sea to the deserted island along with Alec and the Black. I scavenged for food. I tamed the stallion. I rode for hours at the edge of the sea. I was there pleading along with Alec when his rescuers were going to refuse passage for the Black. I was on pins and needles during the long months Alec and his trainer Henry waited for word of the Black’s lineage so they could provide the papers necessary to race him. And I cheered myself hoarse when the Black finally tore up the track.

Over the next year, I read every single Black Stallion book our library carried—not every one that was written, but nearly. I even saved up my allowance to buy some of the ones I couldn’t borrow. I entertained the notion of being a jockey long past the age of reason. Even in junior high and high school, after my family moved to the country and purchased a horse, I would pretend I was in silks and Rusty was a long-legged Thoroughbred. I was thrilled that he was, in fact, part Arabian, just like the Black. And to this day, I still watch the Big Three horse races every summer.

This week with my boys, I was back in fourth grade recapturing that magic. The writing wasn’t quite as perfect as I remember, but in my opinion, it’s still the greatest book in the world, because not a single one since has ever captured me as completely as the Black.

We finished reading a few days ahead of schedule because my boys never wanted to quit reading after only two chapters, and several times they were able to persuade me to put off math and read another. Tonight we watched the movie, and as I put my youngest in bed, he was still celebrating the closing moments. I hope tonight in his dreams my little guy, too, gets to ride a very special big, black horse.

Fourth or fifth grade reading level, read-aloud 6+.

The Outside of a Horse, by Ginny Rorby, 2010, Book Review

the outside of a horse“There’s nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse.”

The Outside of a Horse is an emotional, eye-opening novel that has pushed me into some new areas of thinking. I’m afraid my review may grow rather controversial before I’m done.

Hannah’s mother died of cancer five years ago, and her father returns from Iraq minus a leg and exhibiting some terrifying effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. To escape, Hannah volunteers at a nearby stable that rehabilitates abused horses. There, where their stories merge, where love and trust are allowed to grow, healing is found for girl, for man, and for beast. It is a feel-good story of spirit and triumph, but it contains some disturbing undertones.

I learned a good deal about the dark side of the horse racing industry. For every champion, tens of thousands die, often before they take ten breaths. The worn out, the used up, those who never measure up, all sold for slaughter. And the pharmaceutical industry, particularly producers of women’s hormones, make their money at the dreadful expense of equine lives. An incurable animal-lover, one who wishes those first innocent days of creation might have lasted, I cried during parts of this book.

Yet we live in a world where animals are eaten. If we slaughter cows and chickens for food, I cannot on moral grounds argue against the slaughter of horses, or even cats or dogs. And as the book points out, if we close American slaughterhouses, no fewer animals die. They are simply shipped to Canada or Mexico. Yet I can protest inhumane treatment of these animals, the torturous means of killing them. I can heartily applaud those who work to better the lives of men and beasts. And I can look forward to a time when “all things will be made new.”

The book makes several social statements I’d like to point out. Again and again the war in Iraq is compared to Vietnam, with American government as the bad guy. I have mixed feelings about the war. I remember 9/11 vividly, and I know we need to take a hard line with Muslim terrorist groups and governments. We need to protect America. But sometimes I wonder, is that what we’re doing? Regardless, I have the highest respect and appreciation for our veterans, and the book honors them too.

It also puts in a few subtle arguments for the euthanasia of terminal humans. When Jack, an aging horse, is gently put down, Hannah recalls the suffering her mother endured. “Seeing how easy this was for Jack, I think it shouldn’t have to be so hard for humans.” The problem with this sentiment, the logic of which the book does not think through, is that lowering human life to the status of animals would easily create the same over-slaughter which the author laments for horses. The sick, the defective, the old, the useless–it would become too easy to kill.

And finally, the book makes a plea for saving animals everywhere. I love animals, and I wholeheartedly agree with volunteering at shelters, adopting dogs and cats, treating them with kindness, protecting them with laws, etc., etc., etc. Yet animal activism always draws strong parallels in my mind to other innocents legally slaughtered each year with less protest, the human ones. I cannot pursue protection for the first without equal or greater energy for the second.