Book Review: Beautiful Jim Key

While I was visiting the kids/grandkids in Arizona last month, I read 5 books. I love to read! One of the books I read, which I highly recommend, is Beautiful Jim Key by Mim Eichler Rivas. I had never heard of this horse, and apparently not many people these days have, but after reading this book, I can’t believe he’s being forgotten.

I don’t want to give away the whole story, in case you want to read the book yourself, but here’s a synopsis: Jim Key was a Arabian-Hambletonian colt bred by a former slave, Dr. William Key, in 1889. His dam was “Lauretta, Queen of Horses,” a purebred Arabian said to have been owned by (and stolen from) an Arab sheik. His sire, the Hambletonian, was a very successful pacer, and that’s what Jim was bred to be as well. Pacing (a form of racing where the horse pulls a small cart) was very big at the time. Jim was very sickly when he was born, and not expected to live. With tender loving care by Dr. Key, who was a self-taught veterinarian, he not only lived but turned out to be a very special horse. He showed an unusual aptitude for learning, and Dr. Key ended up teaching him to read, spell, do arithmetic, file letters in a filing cabinet, memorize Bible verses, and give political opinions, among other amazing feats. He ended up on tour, showing millions of Americans his amazing talents at fairs and expositions around the country.

The biggest contribution Jim Key made, though, was to the animal rights cause. Animal abuse was rampant and accepted at the time, and by showing people how intelligent animals can be, he raised awareness in people and became a kind of ambassador for organizations that were the forerunners of today’s ASPCA and Humane Society.

Beautiful Jim Key retired in 1906 and lived a peaceful retirement until he died of natural causes in 1912. He’s buried in Shelbyville, Tennessee. We’re going to visit the memorial someday, when we go to that mecca of Tennessee Walking Horses.

The book was well-written, though in my opinion a tad on the political side, and it dwelt far too much on the relationship between their promoter, A.R. Rogers, and the humane societies. I also wish that there were more pictures, but of course it was just at the turn of the 20th century, so photography wasn’t nearly as common then. But on the whole, it was a very interesting, moving book and definitely worth reading.

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