Jan 16, 2008

Book Review - Dark Horses and Black Beauties

Dark Horses and Black Beauties by Melissa Holbrook Pierson is one of the best books about horses ever written. I am prone to exaggeration, I know, but I really do believe that about this book. Whenever I think of the book that I would recommend to any non-horse-person that would truly explain the love and obsession that horse-people have for the animal, this is the book. Yet weirdly, it speaks to horse-lovers (or me at least) so profoundly that I can read it over and over again and get something new out of it or move me to the point of tears.

It's written by a woman who was, like many a horse-lover, a horse-obsessed little girl that eventually drifted away from the sport, only to return to it with a fierceness later in life. It's a surprisingly lyrical book with no true structure. Mostly, it's just one woman's need to understand her deep connection to the Horse and it's truly all over the map. But it's profound to realize that even though her experiences are unique to her, you also quickly realize that all horse-obsessed girls (at least in this country) are united by certain common truths:
  • We all were unmistakably drawn to the horse and can never truly explain that attraction to someone who has not experienced it.
  • We all went in search of every book, magazine, drawing, photo, movie and game that had even the most remote relationship with anything equine.
  • We all secretly pranced and snorted around our yard like Velvet Brown, pretending our bodies were half horse/half girl, striving to perfect our two-legged lead changes and leaping over every obstacle that could stand in for a 4 foot hedge.
  • And we all completely resented our families' absurd notions that every little girl went through her horse phase, but that we would grow out of it when we discovered boys....Didn't they understand that boys had nothing on horses?

What I'm trying to say is that though Melissa's experiences were wholly her own, she manages to evoke only the similarities that unite all horse-obsessed girls. And by doing so you feel that she has managed to tap into your childhood memories and write a story about you. One entire chapter is comprised only of quotes from young adult horse books, and whether you read them or not as a child (disclosure: I own every single one of those books and about ten times more) you are equal parts thrilled to read them and embarassed to know that your pulse still quickens at the mere mention of the word horse.

When she begins to describe her more tempered and thoughtful adult passion for the horse is when people start to fiercely dislike this book (at least if you go by the reviews on Amazon). The author isn't trying to wax melodic about horses. She has a genuine need to understand why and how we can, as a culture, romanticize the animal and yet still be unashamedly, obliviously cruel in our dealings with them. It is just one person's attempt to reconcile her manic passion with her need to rationally examine her role in horse culture at large and why that even matters. Because it does. It is important that we are all able to take a step back and take a long look at ourselves and make sure that we are honest with our reasons and methods behind every equine interaction.

If nothing else, this book is the only book that I have ever read which honestly describes horse culture at large, in all its guts and glory. It is not simply another "women on horses" book that should just be peddled as horse 'porn' for the ladies. (Yuck, that whole sentence is weird. But you get my drift.) Yeah, horses can and do change our lives. They can be our one true love, always there even when everyone else drifts away. They are constant, our friends through thick and thin. There is something comforting in the fact that they only demand food, shelter, and kindness and in return they will let us forget our physical limitations by lending us their speed and strength. Hey, I buy into all of that even as cynical as I can appear on this blog. But in return we need to own up to the harsh reality that even the most loving of horseowner/rider can be abusive in some small measure. And that your definition of care and training is not necessarily mine. Exalt the horse if you will, but be full ready to take responsibility for every interaction (bad or good) you have with the horse and the horse industry at large. And just try to be the best human you can.


Praemedia said...

added it to my amazon wishlist...

shnnn said...

will i understand you better if i read this? because that would be worth the dough...

Verne said...

Thanks for the review, I haven't read a good book in ages. Now I have one to seek out.
Thanks !

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