I just spent an enjoyable weekend on a California horse ranch in the 1960’s by reading the above two J (for juvenile) books. The hero of our story is Abby Lovitt, a 12 yr. old ranch girl whose parent’s strict religious views mean she doesn’t have a TV, or listen to popular music or wear stylish clothes so she feels like a misfit in her school. The Big Four are the popular girls who like to ridicule Abby and her friends Gloria and Stella. But at least Gloria also likes horses so they have lots to talk about.
Abby’s Dad buys unlikely-looking horses, horses that show some wear and tear, and then tries to turn a profit by fattening the up, cleaning them up and giving them lots of riding experience. Abby has been in the saddle since she was three and she is an essential part of the ranch’s business. Her Dad names all the mares Jewel and all the geldings George, so they don’t get attached to them. Abby has named one, though. Ornery George loves to buck her off as well as having his own ideas of how they should conduct their daily workouts. Abby’s Dad and her Uncle Luke have a carrot or stick approach to training horses and that doesn’t work with Ornery George, in fact, it makes him more resentful. A man named Jem Jarrow comes to look at Ornery George, supposedly to buy him, but when Abby’s father and mother leave for church, he takes Ornery George in hand, showing Abby a totally new way of gentling the horse. He has been sent by Abby’s brother Danny, who is not speaking to his Dad, but works for the local farrier and so Abby and his Mom see him when he comes to help shoe the horses.
Abby’s is delighted when one of the mares her Dad recently purchased turns out to be pregnant and produces a little black foal. His dam dies shortly after of colic and Abby has the duty of hand-feeding the little colt she calls Jack.
The story of the Georges and the Jewels, Abby and Jack are continued in the sequel – A Good Horse. These books enchanted me. You don’t have to be a horse lover or a juvenile reader to enjoy them. Jane Smiley loves horses and people and her characters, equine and human, jump off the page.