Tag Archives: books

Book Review: “Half-Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel” by Jeannette Walls

First of all – I am SO sorry to have neglected this blog for as long as we have. It’s inexcusable, really, but we have been very, very busy. My father retired at the end of September and I spent weeks getting ready to go out to California to help them move, then the actual time there getting them packed (about 2 weeks), then the week driving back, and since then we’ve been getting them settled (driver’s licenses, new doctors, new banks, etc.)…so I’ve let a lot of things slide. Y’all aren’t the only ones I’ve neglected, believe me!

But I DID find time to read this great book, and I highly recommend you do too. Although it’s not technically about horses, horses do figure prominently in the story. It’s the story of the author’s grandmother’s life, told in the first-person. Her name is Lily Casey Smith. She had quite a life, and she thankfully shared stories about it with her family. Ms. Walls and her mother, Lily’s daughter, remembered a lot about Lily’s life, and Ms. Walls created this wonderful book from those stories. She calls it a true-life novel because she couldn’t know everything about her grandmother – e.g., conversations she had with others, her thoughts about events that took place, other little details. But Ms. Walls fills in the gaps beautifully, and wove together a riveting, moving, even inspiring life story that I think her grandmother would be proud of.

What a life Lily lived – she was born in a dirt dugout in West Texas, became an itinerant teacher in Arizona at the age of 15 (riding her horse alone from her home to Arizona), ran a cattle ranch with her husband, survived the Great Depression, raised two children while earning her college degree, learned to fly…and those are just a few of the highlights. Ms. Walls’ writing style really connects the reader with Lily – you feel like you are really hearing Lily’s voice. She was a spunky, no-nonsense character, and I wish I had known her in life – but I’m glad I could meet her in this book.

Book Review: Chosen by a Horse

Yes, I know I’m supposed to be writing my own novel, but I started this book a while back and wanted to finish it. It was really, really good, but have the tissues handy if you read it!

Chosen by a Horse is a memoir by Susan Richards. She agreed to foster a Standardbred mare and her foal when they and nearly 40 other mares and foals were confiscated by the SPCA from a farm where they were abused and neglected. She brought this mare, Lay Me Down, back to her own farm even though she lived alone, already owned three horses and Lay Me Down was so sick she had no guarantee of survival. The foal was inexplicably returned to the abusive owner (apparently to be surrendered to a vet to whom the owner owed money), but Lay Me Down eventually recovered from the malnutrition and lung infection she was suffering from when Ms. Richards brought her home.

You would think that a horse who had been abused, nearly starved, and denied medical care would be the either the meanest or most skittish horse on earth, but Lay Me Down had a big, loving heart and over the following months, she helped Ms. Richards – who had a past just as horrific as Lay Me Down’s – open up her own heart through caring for this wonderful horse.

I won’t give away any more of the story, because you really should read it for yourself. It’s a really good book; very well-written and touching. I will tell you that when I got to the end, I was reading it in bed next to Bill, who was already asleep, and I was sobbing so hard I was afraid I would wake him. So you’ve been warned – grab a hankie with this book.

My one and only complaint is that there was only one photograph, on the title page. I sure would have loved to see some pictures of Lay Me Down and the other horses (Hotshot, Tempo and especially the lovely Georgia). But I guess Ms. Richards is more like me than Bill – at our house, Bill pretty much takes all the pictures, and I prefer to live the moment rather than photograph it.  Apparently Ms. Richards feels the same way, and only takes pictures when the moment demands it, such as the one on the title page (in the book, she talks very specifically about taking that one photo, and why).  But she paints such a vivid picture with words that you can imagine everything in your head almost as well as if you did have a photograph to see.

All in all, Chosen by a Horse is one of the best books I’ve read, fiction or non-fiction. Definitely a must-read.

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.