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Molly Gloss - The Hearts of Horses (2007)

A pen portrait of Elwha County, Oregon, during the winter of 1917. The Indians were driven off the land by the first wave of European settlers, who have already grown old on the land or moved on. Livestock farming is giving way to mismanaged arable, and to the early tourism and industrialisation that will have a short life in its turn. The young men are away being trained for war in Europe. The young women are taking their places on the land. The railway is there, and some motor vehicles, but horses are still the daily support of their owners to ride, and to draw ploughs, sleighs and wagons.

Martha Lessen is a horsebreaker, riding a circle of homesteads each day to break their horses to the saddle. We meet the people she meets, as she meets them, but we learn more of them than Martha does as Gloss gives us back- and forward-stories for her characters, in life and death.

This is a lovely book dealing with an unlovely time and place. I would recommend it unhesitatingly...

...except that it conveys, calmly and very clearly quite how badly the human race collectively mistreats horses in order to be able to make use of them. Many of the horse lovers who would really enjoy this book would become ashamed of themselves if they were to read it.

So I'm not quite sure what to do about that.

(I picked this up in Nottingham, recognising Gloss's name after reading The Dazzle of Day a couple of years ago. I shall be looking out for her other books.)


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
25th Mar, 2017 16:07 (UTC)
Re the horse training, things are generally much better now in the UK than they would have been in 1917, though not all trainers have adopted a more gentle, positive reinforcement approach. But I think you can probably recommend the book without too much worry, any horse lovers who have actually had much to do with the horse world will already be aware of the bad things that happen.
25th Mar, 2017 17:48 (UTC)
You are probably right. It's just that the book manages to bring it sharply home without making a big deal of it.

Will they know that of the 4 million horses sent to the front in the Great War 1 million were killed in action and the other 3 million eaten afterwards?
25th Mar, 2017 19:43 (UTC)
I read this some time ago, and I seem to remember that the heroine herself used very sympathetic methods of horse training - much more like "horse whispering" than her contemporaries. She doesn't sugar-coat the context, though, and I think that's probably the important thing.

I really enjoyed the book - not just for the scenery but the delicacy with which she paints the humans and their relationships, with the land, with the horses, with each other.
26th Mar, 2017 10:30 (UTC)
Yes. The writing is lovely. Glad it's not just me who enjoyed it. I'm going to pass it on for others to enjoy.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


Caroline M

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October 2017