A Horse is a Horse…

As you’ve probably guessed, I love reading about animals, especially dogs and horses, but other animals are good to read about as well. I like fiction better than non-fiction, though I’ve read a number of good non-fiction animal books.

My husband loves to sing the first verse of the opening song for the old TV sitcom starring the “Mr. Ed,” hence the title of this post.

My favorites are:

Free and Easy, about young Stella O’Dare who pines for a horse of her own, but can’t afford one. She ends up helping at a neighboring farm and is allowed to train a filly. She begins to think of the mare as her own and gets jealous if other people take an interest in the horse. Things get more complicated when a young man takes an interest in the mare and then in Stella. I learned a lot about horse training, and about horse breeds. The filly is a purebred Narragansett Pacer. The breed no longer exists, but does show up in the bloodlines of Tennessee Walking Horses, Rocky Mountain gaited horses, and Saddlebreds. All these breeds have gaits other than just the usual walk, trot, canter, gallop. Not all Walking Horses trot and not all Walking Horses pace, but they all do the long, easy gait that is as fast as most horses’ trot, but with no bumping up and down.

Yeah, but what does that mean, to pace or to trot?

A horse’s walk, no matter how slow or fast, is a four-beat gait. Let’s say you’re looking at the horse from the left side, first the left hind foot moves forward, and as it lands, the right front foot moves forward, then the right hind and then left front.  A Walking Horse’s extended walk should be so smooth and straight, you could pass along rows of cornstalks and not touch the corn with your body. And you should be able to ride for hours. These horses were bred to carry the landowner as comfortably as possible while they checked on their plantations. Some horse shows used to have classes where the rider had to ride a certain distance holding a full glass of water without spilling a drop.

Next comes the trot, which is a two-beat gait. Again, watching from the left side, that hind foot and the alternate front foot leave the ground together, and, when they land, the other diagonal pair move. Once you learn to move with the push of the horse’s hind legs, it’s lots easier to stay with the horse instead of bouncing around. Now, this is where the gait called a pace comes in. Not all horses have it, but those that do can be quite comfortable. The difference is which legs move together. In the trot, it’s a diagonal pairing; in a pace, it’s a lateral pairing—left hind and left front. Your body must adjust to roll with the gait, instead rising to the gait. A slow trot is called a jog and, with the right horse, you can sit to it for miles. Our orange and white Pinto, had an outstanding jog trot, but he also had a glorious extended trot. I could feel his hind legs land under my seat and see his forelegs stretch past his muzzle.

Our wonderful Thoroughbred had a nice, steady trot, but his best gaits were his canter and his gallop—like riding on a fast-moving cloud. This is a three-beat gait—left hind, front legs mostly together and right hind. You should be able to sit to this gait.

The next gait is the gallop, which is what Thoroughbreds do when they’re racing. Similar to a canter, it is, of course, much faster and all four feet are off the ground in one stage of the stride. It’s so exciting it can take your breath away.

My husband and I had Tennessee Walking Horses on our farm. Two of them were good jumpers and very willing to go where ever we wanted them to go.  I loved that we had a breed which carried the bloodlines of the horse in my favorite horse story.

Other of my favorite books:

King of the Wind: the story of the Godolphin Arabian, and other books about horses, all of them illustrated by Wesley Dennis, taught me a great deal about horses. Her books about the Chincoteague ponies still resonate with horse lovers. The first of that series is Misty of Chincoteague.

Smoky, the Cowhorse written and illustrated by Will James, who was a cowboy and taught himself to draw.

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley, who was another favorite of mine for horse books. And though this information says the book was copyrighted in 1969, I think it was first published much earlier than that.


My Friend Flicka
and the rest of the series by Mary O’Hara will always have a place inmy heart. Flicka is about a young boy’s struggle to please his domineering father and the solace he finds in gaining the trust of a filly.Any of the C W Anderson books will do, but see if you can find his Favorite Horse Stories. I believe his last story was of a pony named Blaze. I loved the pen and ink

drawings scattered throughout the pages. He was also quite well known for his

drawings of horses, perhaps even better known for them than his books.

Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet is another much loved and much filmed story about a

young English girl, who trains and rides a black and white pinto to win the grand prix

of steeple chase races in England at the time when girls weren’t supposed to do things

that. Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney played in the original film version.

Of course, just about everyone knows about Black Beauty, whose story was put to paper by Anna Sewell and was intended to inform the public about cruelty to horses, in particular harness horses. The book itself plays a part in my middle-reader novel, which I hope to have out by the end of this year. My book is titled Emily’s Ride to Courage.

Obviously, there are many more stories involving horses, but this is enough for now. Thanks for reading. Sarah Maury Swan, author of Terror’s Identity.

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