Sunday, September 12, 2010

Horse Girl

When Allah created the horse, he said to the wind, 'I will that a creature proceed from thee. Condense thyself!' And the wind condensed itself, and the result was the horse.
King Of the Wind, Marguerite Henry

As a child, I climbed trees, rode my bike as fast as I could, and learned to shoot hoops. I refused to wear dresses and did not play with dolls. But there was one affinity that was definitely "girly" - my obsession with horses. I would put a leash on our huge dog, a Tibetan Mastiff, and coax her into letting me ride on her back (fail!). I was riveted by movies about horses, wanting a rebellious jumper like the Pie from National Velvet and when the film version of The Black Stallion came out, I watched it over and over again, absolutely mesmerized by the grace and power of such a beast.

But, oh, the books! There was the gift edition of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell from a family friend, beautiful guides to horse breeds of the world, Enid Bagnold's National Velvet, and collections of classic horse stories. The entire Black Stallion series had me wishing I, too, could be stranded on a desert island with a massive black horse that I (and only I) could tame and ride in a serious race - and win.

Of course, there were the entire works of the inimitable Marguerite Henry. The first Henry book I read was Misty of Chincoteague, followed quickly by King of the Wind, a solid favorite as it made me fall irrevocably in love with Arabians. Black Gold told the true story of a long-shot thoroughbred who won the 1924 Kentucky Derby and suddenly I wanted to be a Triple Crown-winning jockey. After White Stallion of Lipizza and the beautiful stables of the legendary dancing stallions, I was going to move to Vienna and train at the Spanish Riding School.

Little did I know my Marguerite Henry connection would persist into adulthood. I moved to Milwaukee without knowing it was where Henry was born (1902) and raised. Her books are not only children’s classics, but are instantly recognizable because of her 20-year/15-book collaboration with illustrator Wesley Dennis. Dennis was also the illustrator for Sewell's Black Beauty, The Red Pony by John Steinbeck (just thinking about that one chokes me up) and many others: 150 over the course of his career. After completing Justin Morgan Had a Horse, Henry said she wanted the best horse artist in the world and after doing her research at the library, she sent her manuscript to Dennis, and he accepted.

Not having a real horse to ride, living in my imagination was the next best thing. It was easy to do with my growing collection of model horses, most made by Breyer. My best friend at the time, Lindsay, and I merged our herds and would play on the hilly steps behind her house, creating dramatic, epic narratives replete with horses falling in love, marrying and giving birth; there were herd wars, and the horses even attended funerals. There would be whole weekends of this sort of wondrous creativity and play; the narratives continuing each time we got together. We could have drawn up extended family trees that went back generations.

On display you will find some selections from my beloved collection of those favorite reads from childhood along with remnants of the legendary Johnson-Edwards model horse clans. While Lindsay and I have long lost touch, the horses still live on.


  1. Oh, this took me right back to my young years as a horse maniac (Pre Beatlemania). Wonder what happened to my statuettes....
    PS, my grandfather picked up my well worn copy of Black Gold one day and read it straight through. My mother said it was the only book she ever remembered seeing him read.

  2. Hi Stacie,

    Your "Horse Girl" post really resonated with me. Though I did not get into much collecting of horses, I certainly did read about them, and for a period of time, during my own "Horse Girl" days my new bike "was" a horse complete with reins! I too think is is very special that Marguerite Henry had roots in Milwaukee and a favorite reading story from my long, long, ago youth is the time (I was about 9) I was lying on my stomach on the living rug reading King of the Wind and crying a bit. My Dad asked me: "Why are you crying?" I said: "Because this book is so sad." He then asked me: "Then why are you reading it?" and I of course answered: "Because it is SO good!" The last time I was at Boswell I had a quick look at your horse and horse book display. Now I will have to come back in to enjoy it again. Very nice! Jean R.

  3. Hi Mary and Jean,

    I'm so glad the post has brought back such warm memories for you both. It's indicative of the long-lasting impact books have on us, that years later the merest mention brings back wonderful associations.

    Thank you for sharing yours here!

  4. What first caught my attention was the picture of your King of the Wind. I thought, " Hey! My book!" Because you know, that one you had when you were a kid somehow feels like the only one that exists. Then reading your true-to-the- horse- loving -spirits -core monologue...I couldn't help but think... "when did I write THIS? Wait...I never moved to Milwaukee." ( Close though) I promptly tugged at my boyfriends sleeve and said, " hey Hun! She had my childhood! Weird!" Very cool :) Andrea