Recently, I was speaking with my friend about books we enjoyed as children. She spoke well of a book she had read so many years ago that was about a mighty, wild stallion who was captured by humans. They tried to break his fierce spirit every way they knew how, but he endured and managed to live the rest of his days carefree on the range once again, a symbol of spiritual freedom.
I realized while I was listening to her that I had read a similar book, although not that specific one. Not only that, but I had read quite a few books with that general plot! There was one set in the Pioneer Times about a Moonstone Stallion who rescued some little prairie girl who had gotten herself lost from the wagon train. And another story I dimly recall about another white stallion who pranced around, inspiring these children while vexing the austere and practical adults. Of course Walter Farley wrote a whole horrible series of books about the Black Stallion and his Island Stallion counterpart, Flame. Those were just a few I had read as a small child. But obviously, there have been others, possibly a thousand others!
Equine literature aimed at children is a very strange genre of fiction. Mostly meant to entertain “horse crazy” little girls. Some of the books were about young girls just like the reader who enjoy being around horses and learning about them, riding, laughing with each other, and friendship. Or they were about wild horses that resist taming, display perfect carriage and conformation, and are far above the intelligence of wily and sinister men who cruelly break horses for a living. These stallions (almost always stallions) refuse to be broken by all! Well, except for the little girl, or occasionally little boy, who manages to tame the horse just by being kind or particularly helpless.
When I was eight years old, I didn’t think twice about the improbability of these plots. For those of you who do not know anything about horses beyond being able to identify one in a photo of various animals, I will explain a little about how silly these books actually are. You see, the story generally revolves around a wild stallion. A stallion is a guy horse that has not been neutered, or “gelded” as it is called in equine glossaries. They are not really friendly animals, typically. Usually concerned with procreation, protecting a “herd” from other horse dudes, and eating grass when he has the time, a stallion has no interest in a little human girl who has twisted her ankle while hiking alone. He certainly wouldn’t express any maternal tenderness.
Also, wild horses are not beautiful and perfect awe-inspiring specimens. Their manes and tales are full of brambles, they have scars from horse bites and horse kicks, they are often scrawny looking, and their hooves are cracked from not wearing shoes on the hard rock surroundings. It is true that mustang horses that have been made into pets are often pretty, but they have been brushed and fed well. Not even those tamed mustangs are quite what the stories try to describe. Fictional horses have silky manes blowing in the wind, glowing coats kept sleek and groomed by rain I guess, are tall and imposing, perfect in every conceivable way, able to later win shows and races, if the plot decides to go in that direction.
The most outrageous part is how the same book has been written and published probably as many as sixteen times every year. Horse-fevered little girls read this same story many, many times, not even realizing it until one grey afternoon twenty-five years later. I am shocked. I am even a little angry. I could write a story that trite, ridiculous, and horrible! I WILL write it! I know horse-related words! I can occasionally write in an engaging manner! By God, I am going to write the most ordinary story and it is going to be a HIT. And what’s better, I can actually illustrate it.
Readers, read on:
The Ultimate Horse Story for Girls
Dedicated to all of the girls out there who understand what it is to love something that will forever remain free.
[We will skip to Chapter 3 or 4. There is some plot and character introduction. The protagonist is named Jane Marie Normalgirl and she and her eighteen siblings are having to move farther west with their Papa there in the year 1855. Ma and some siblings died recently and times are hard but hints of wild horses keep the reader interested.]
Jane Marie’s lips were definitely cracking. She was very, very thirsty. How many hours had they been lost from the rest of the wagon train? She could not remember. Why had her littlest sister, Jane Jane, wandered off and so required tracking? For that matter, why hadn’t the wagon train waited for them to return? Were there really so many Normalgirl children that two of the best-loved Janes were so easily overlooked?
That could be sorted later, she supposed. If there IS a later, her melodramatic and defeated head voice chimed in. But now is not the time or place to reveal that she was actually a sensitive and complex character. This is not that sort of book.
Jane Jane was fading fast. They both needed a lot of potable water and fast. The prairie is a dry place in the best of times but they were in a drought at the moment. The drought was why they were moving. Jane Marie coughed pitifully into her dusty gingham dress. She lifted Jane Jane and carried her little sister in the wettest looking direction. The direction they started walking in was North and the Wagon Train was headed West. Oh no!
They made it perhaps a quarter of a mile when Jane Marie collapsed under the weight of Jane Jane, who was only 18 months younger than she was anyway. They were both unconscious, slowly roasting in the sunlight, turning red and blistery. Two hours passed. It was long enough to endanger the lives of two malnourished young girls who are about six and seven or eight years old.
Jane Marie awoke first. She realized that she was in shade but how could that be? The prairie was a treeless zone! She was secondly aware of the sounds of animals grazing nearby and identified the sounds of soft wickers. Horses! She was afraid to open her eyes. What if she was surrounded by Apaches! What if her little sister, who was still deadweight across her, was revealed to be mercilessly scalped already? Jane Marie’s pulse quickened. Adrenaline introduced itself into her system.
Opening her eyes, which were now like the eyes of a fierce warrior, Jane Marie found that she was not surrounded by Apaches after all. She was surrounded by true blue wild horses!
“Awww!” said Jane Marie enthusiastically, rousing both her sister and the nearby palomino colored spotted foals.
Mother horses quickly gathered the young foals away from the two now-recovering human girls. Humans were generally a threatening introduction to the wild areas of the prairie and they did not care for these little girls who were cooing and clapping their hands excitedly. The mares did not know English, but they could sense that the girls were excitedly discussing how best to braid pretty ribbons into their silky and beautiful manes and tails.
As the mares collectively moved away from Jane Marie and Jane Jane, one horse stood still, watching them. Even though it was midday, the horse was silhouetted against the sky. No! It was just that the horse was midnight-black. It was larger than all of the other horses and exuded an almost otherworldly aura of nobility and intelligence. It was obviously the leader of the herd. It turned to the girls and offered a handsome, baritone neigh.
“Oh, isn’t that stallion particularly pleasing to the eye, Jane Jane?” queried Jane Marie to her little sister.
“Yes, I hope he lets us pet his nose and soon!” cried Jane Jane, jumping up and down in a fit of excitement that only little girls can do properly.
“No,” Jane Marie said in a voice wise beyond her years. “Wild stallions are not meant to be petted and cuddled. We must respect him as all wild things must be respected.”
Jane Marie took her little sister by the hand and approached the majestic stallion. He tossed his head and pawed at the ground. He then did an incredible thing. He kneeled down on the ground and laid down! Instinctively, the girls ran to him and hugged his neck and climbed onto his back. The stallion, whom they agreed to call Starfire, got up carefully so that they would not slip off and began to walk them westward, towards the wagon train, and unbeknownst to them, a watering hole of modest size.
[I will once again skip a few crucial chapters for the purposes of giving you a reason to buy the book when it is released. But Starfire reunites the girls with the rest of the settlers, and gets them to drinking water with only MINUTES to spare before they died of dehydration. The girls are soon thrust into the life of a slightly larger town than before and have to attend school in a one room schoolhouse and the schoolmarm insists that they adhere to the rules and is very strict. The girls often daydream about the time spent with the wild horses. Their dad and siblings urge them to stop talking about the horses because they are no good to anyone. We will skip ahead to the middle of Chapter 9.]
Papa aimed into the night and shot blindly. Jane Marie screamed.
“No Papa! You’ve shot Starfire! You’ve killed him!”
“Tweren’t no good to any good honest farmer! Ain’t no room for wild horses no more! They’s eatin’ our grass crop! That’s our only source of income an’ you know how Jane Jane needs new eyes!”
Jane Marie ran from her father, weeping very hard and shouting Starfire’s name repeatedly. A neigh answered her, and it did not sound wounded! She followed the sounds and discovered that her father had aimed badly, wounding only the side of the barn and not her beloved wild friend who had returned to her life suddenly one day last week.
As she wept into his mane, Starfire nuzzled her shoulder and seemed to understand her human sorrow and wanted to make it stop because he was a good guy like that.
“Please Starfire. You should go. It would be safest for you and your family if you stopped being around human beings, because humans can’t be expected to live peacefully with anything else. Go, go and be safe forever!”
Starfire turned away reluctantly and left at a canter. However, he stopped at the crest of a very small hill and reared up, framed by a ridiculously large full moon. His fetlocks waved in the still night air, his mane and tail flashed in the moonlight. Then he galloped off.
“And good riddance!” shouted Papa after him, ignorant of his daughter’s anguish as she lay face down on the dirt, weeping without end.
[After this tear-wrenching scene, Jane Marie is plunged into despair, having learned that existence is unrewarding and bleak. Papa gambles away their meager grass crop income in hopes of winning big. Jane Jane’s need for new eyes is threatening her life, the inexplicable infection has spread toward her brain and the physicians of 1856 recommend expensive and experimental transplant surgery. Papa has lost more than he has ever had, and men are coming to break his knees in this next scene in Chapter 12.]
Jane Marie turned away, but she will never forget the look on Papa’s face as three large men surrounded him holding instruments of pain. She and her eighteen other siblings were tied together and tied to a post, helpless to help. Jane Jane called feebly from her bed, asking what was happening, audibly hoping that she was not somehow the cause of all this trouble.
Jane Marie had her eyes clenched shut, but she could still hear every sound because she could not plug her ears with her fingers. Papa was pleading without shame, begging the men for more time. They assured him that none was to be had. Papa’s womanly scream was truncated by the sound of thundering hooves and a dull thud of a human skull getting cracked. Was it the lone mounted policeman of the town coming to the rescue? Jane Marie opened her eyes as quickly as possible.
It was Starfire!
He stood there in a pose of equine magnificence, nostrils dilated, eyes wide and scary looking, a fallen goon at his feet. The other villains scattered, shouting confused instructions to each other. Papa was scrambling out of the way, not realizing that he was being saved by this heroic black stallion.
“Oh no you don’t!” shouted a weaselly man, grabbing Papa gruffly by the shoulders. Starfire turned and reared, delivering a hoof punch right to that man’s jaw, breaking it easily and knocking that man out. Papa looked on in terror, but a dim light of understanding began to glow in his eyes.
The remaining man started to run away, but even the fastest horse at the county fair could not outrun Starfire. Starfire caught up with the man and trampled him down as though he were a common snake threat. He then came back to the Normalgirl children and bit away their ropes without much effort. They gathered around him, petting him and promising him all of the grass crop of next year.
Papa came up to the group, looking bashful and slightly foolish around the edges. Starfire turned to him. They exchanged a look that appeared to be a full communication between the two. A silent understanding was forged, and Starfire lifted his tail, dropping manure made of solid gold.
“Thank you kindly, Starfire,” Papa whispered. “Much obliged.”
[This is essentially the end of the story, but there will still be a few chapters of closure and tying up loose ends. Will Jane Jane get her surgery in time? Will Papa buy a bank and wind up owning half the town? Will the Normalgirl children have a new step-mom who appears to be a snooty gold digger with a heart of ice but who turns out to just be afraid that her step-children won’t like her so she misguidedly puts an unlikable façade up for complicated psychological reasons? Will Starfire be able to juggle the responsibilities of caring full-time for a human family as well as a horse family? Buy my book eventually and have these questions AND MORE answered!]