A Book Of A Different Color

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Horsemen are like their animals. They don’t deal well with the unexpected and are suspicious of anything that seems out of place.

One thing that always seems out of place is a mainstream book about horses. Volumes about horses found in the front of the bookstore usually have a lot of pretty pictures accompanied by words that never sound quite right. Books hidden back in the stacks under labels of “Horse Sports” or “Animals,” do better, but the best horse books are found in the tack shops. We’re snobs. We want the real thing. We don’t want The Horse Whisperer.

Well, the real thing has now come from a seemingly unlikely source, an award-winning novelist with a long list of university credits after his name, a man not out of place among the canyons of New York publishing houses.

Thomas McGuane is much more at home, however, on his cattle ranch in Montana, where he writes his books and works his cutting horses. There aren’t many authors who would bring home a deeply frightened new horse, then move a writing desk into the stall with him and work over a legal pad for three days until the horse is willing to nibble hay at his feet.

Some Horses ($22.95, published by The Lyons Press) is being promoted as a book for the general public, not for a narrow special-interest group, which horsepeople are to the rest of the American public. That’s because of the lyricism of its prose, which should attract anyone entertained by fine writing.

This isn’t intended to be a book review. We’re talking about Some Horses here as an expression of hope that horsemen will take the lesson from it that we’re more alike than we are different. McGuane doesn’t seem to have preconceived notions about what other people do with their horses. To McGuane, the horse is the essential matter.

Nestled among the prose and anecdotes, McGuane makes astute observations about horsemanship: “The quiet, circumspect horseman makes every movement and even every thought around a green horse a building block of restraint and confidence. The best horsemen are quiet and consistent, firmly kind, and, from the horse’s point of view, good listeners.”

Many horsemen see and feel the beauty in horses, but they may not be able to express it. McGuane sees the greater joy of the union of horse and rider, making that partnership more significant than the individuals. He’s not big on machines: “Those who love horses are impelled by an ever-receeding vision, some enchanged transformation through which the horse and the rider become a third, much greater thing. No such image haunts the dreams of the motorist. Becoming one with your car is the subject of perhaps unforeseen comedy.”

McGuane is funny, thoughtful and informative at the same time. He breaks another convention, the one that states a picture is worth more than a thousand words. When Tom McGuane writes about horses, a thousand words are worth more than a picture.

’Til next month,

-Margaret Freeman