Wild About Horses: Our Timeless Passion for the Horse

Wild About Horses: Our Timeless Passion for the Horse

by Lawrence Scanlan

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The human love affair with horses is an ancient and far-reaching one. Moving effortlessly from history to literature, from science to sport, from anecdote to personal experience, Lawrence Scanlan sets out to discover the essence of our powerful, almost mystical attraction to this noble creature. Scanlan covers a wide territory: from the mythic horses of


The human love affair with horses is an ancient and far-reaching one. Moving effortlessly from history to literature, from science to sport, from anecdote to personal experience, Lawrence Scanlan sets out to discover the essence of our powerful, almost mystical attraction to this noble creature. Scanlan covers a wide territory: from the mythic horses of cultures long past to the real-life whisperers of today, to the timeless wild mustangs still roaming the Great Plains.

As he touches on each aspect of the equine-human bond, Scanlan makes perfect sense of "horse fever" — that curious affliction that has been known to strike both the seasoned professional and the rider who has galloped only in his or her dreams. Written in lyrical prose with wit, humor, and an eye for drama, meticulously researched and complemented by fifty compelling black-and-white photographs, Wild About Horses addresses our need to know everything we can about the horse.

Editorial Reviews

Carolyn Hughes
. . .[E]ntertaining. . . .weaves together historical information, modern iconography and mythological lore in his exploration of the profound human love of horses.
New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Scanlan, author of the Canadian horse books Riding High and Big Ben, may be wild about horses, but that doesn't mean that his gushing prose couldn't use some taming. "Time and Space and a Horse are what we had out there," he proclaims of a trek through the Wyoming wilderness. "I hiked up to the ridge... and felt powerful emotions surging in me. (Or was I just out of breath?) I kept thinking of the Shoshone.... Maybe they felt what pilgrims to Chartres or Mecca felt: an overwhelming sense of their own smallness." After wading through obvious observations ("To understand the unique and powerful kinship that humans feel with horses, we must look past mythology to history") and a choppy, uncritical amalgam of oft-retold horse lore, reverential character sketches, simplistic factoids and extensive quotes from other (better) works, such as Stephen Budiansky's The Nature of Horses, this equine elegy reads like an overgrown term paper. "In the world of horses," Scanlan observes, "it might also seem that under the sun there can be nothing new. Or at least nothing more to be written." Readers may well agree--and return instead to the primary sources listed in the extensive bibliography. Photos. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Scanlan, who has published two books about horses in Canada, explores the cultural significance of our love of horses from various perspectives that range from the historical to the mythological. Recounting epic horseback journeys, profiling famous horses in sports, literature, and film, and detailing other aspects of the horse-human connection, Scanlan's book is neither dry nor overanalyzed, and his writing style is effortless, conversational, and sometimes moving. Scanlan's status as a relative newcomer in the equine world makes Wild About Horses understandable and entertaining to readers who are not yet well versed in horse lore, but his obvious passion and thorough research make his book valuable and entertaining to the experienced equestrian as well. Recommended for all collections.--Stacey Hathaway-Bell, State Lib. of Louisiana, Baton Rouge
Kirkus Reviews
Scanlan (Riding High) asks, just what is horse fever, and why are so many held in its grip? In this ranging and light-footed history, he comes as close to an answer as anyone is likely to do. The answer, of course, is that there is no one answer. Horses are, and have been, many things: farm laborers and beasts of burden, suppliers of food (flesh) and warmth (dung). Their speed delivered the mail, their majesty graces the walls of Lascaux. In oral traditions and ancient mythologies their presence looms large, and Paleolithic folk probably rode them over the chilly grasslands and definitely marked sacred sites with horses' bones. Scanlan covers all this, and also those horses that made the greatest dent in human history and consciousness, from the great war horses (including the Trojan horse) to the stars of stage, page, track, and screen. He enters the heads and barns of horse people and tries to take a fix on the nature of their connection to Equus. He does an excellent job of renewing the dignity of 'horse whisperers' after their Hollywood treatment, tracing the lineage of horse 'gentlers' (as they would rather be called, and they work a lot more with eye contact and body angles than soft murmurings) from Xenophon's sage little treatise The Art of Horsemanship (300 b.c.) to the contemporary ministerings of Monty Roberts, Tom Dorrance, and others. Scanlan, a three-time National Magazine Award winner, knows how to gently poke fun at our horsy obsessions and also how to tease the horse manure from the many wonderful stories of horse sense. The simple fact that horses have intruded upon our imaginations to such a vast extent suggests that our bond with the beast is morethan merely practical, and Scanlan is an ideal guide to that secret world of connectedness, with its crazy and sublime turnings.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial Series
Edition description:
First Perennial Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)

Read an Excerpt



And, bebold, a pale borse; and be that sat upon him,his name was Deatb.


We bad no word for the strange animal we gotfrom the white man — the horse. So we called itsunka wakan, "holy dog."


Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions

"WHAT'S BRED IN the bone will not out of the flesh,"a thirteenth-century proverb has it. In at least some of us, the love of horses is indeed bred in the bone — an ancestral seed seemingly passed on from generation to generation, as genuine as blood marrow, as clear to the eye as an insect locked in amber.

In a family, even one living in the tangle of a city, far from stables and pastures, a particular daughter or son may simply, inexplicably, be born with a longing for horses. Poll any classroom, urban or rural, and ask children to name their favorite animal: bet on the horse coming out on top.

A horsewoman I know "rode" brooms as a toddler; Ian Millar, later a world champion equestrian, "rode" his piano bench as a boy. Growing up in Ottawa, Ontario, young Millar watched desperately for rent-a-ponies in the neighborhood and followed westerns like a hound on a trail. Maxine Kumin, the poet, seems also to have been born horse-mad, and as a child would give camp blankets and lumps of sugar to passing cart horses in her suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. She prayed for, "lobbied mightily for," a pony.

I stand in awe of that intrinsic drive and I wonder: Where does horse fever come from? How far back can we trace itsroots? The literature on myths and legends suggests that our memory of horses is of a collective, almost universal, sort.

Customs among horse cultures were rich and varied, but the similarities were sometimes striking. Plains Indian tribes were true masters of the horse, and among the Crow, for example, horse and rider were so much considered as one entity that a warrior would strike a man's horse in the face to insult the owner. Is it pure coincidence that among the Siberian Kirghiz, a continent and centuries away, to strike another man's horse or even to speak harshly to the horse, was akin to insulting the owner?

Few societies have failed to be touched in some way by the horse. Early humans formed horse cults, created complex cosmologies with winged horses, explained the rising and setting of the sun as the work of heavenly horses pulling the orb across the sky. All over the ancient world, the horse figured almost as much in human consciousness as the sun itself.

It was believed that in the afterlife horses, too, would be resurrected, some wearing the gold-plated girths, richly embroidered saddle cloths and bronze tail rings they had been buried with, standing in their graves as if ready for one last, glorious ride.

In Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses, a veteran of cavalry wars opines on the nature of horses — how "the souls of horses mirror the souls of men more closely than men suppose," how horses love war and have no need of heaven. And when the old Mexican is asked what would happen to horses' souls were horses to disappear from the face of the earth, he assures that "God would not permit such a thing."

Such confidence in the future of horses can only come from exceedingly deep roots — the oral traditions and ancient mythologies that were the precursors to our literature. There, the horse loomed large.

Always were, McCarthy's sage seems to say of horses, always will be.

It was long thought that the first rider mounted a horse some four thousand years ago, but recent discoveries keep pushing that moment further and further back into the recesses of time.

During the 1960s, a horse-head carving — with engraved lines that could be a halter — was found in southwest France in a cave known as La Marche. The carving is up to fifteen thousand years old. "Upper Palaeolithic people," says paleontologist Paul Balm, "were of exactly the same intelligence as we are. You'd expect that it would dawn on them that they might be able to do more with horses than simply throw a spear at them when they were feeling hungry." The image of Ice Age people "galloping across the chilly grasslands of Europe" might conflict with our preconceptions, says his colleague Richard Leakey, but may well be accurate.

And what to make of thirty-thousand-year-old horse teeth that show evidence of crib biting — the habit of biting on hard objects that only corralled or tethered horses engage in? Did confined horses serve as pets, as decoys, or as a ready source Of fresh meat? And when did that first courageous human ride the first horse? Teeth, it turns out, may offer the best evidence for dating the elusive moment when Homo erectus became Homo equestris.

In December, 1991, Scientific American featured an article by an American-Russian team of two anthropologists and one archeologist who argued from their own field research on the steppes of Russia that humans rode horses at least six thousand years ago. Like forensic scientists probing dental records to identify a murder victim, the scientists scrutinized, even X-rayed, horse teeth found in a burial site.

Over time, horses accustomed to wearing a bit sustain subtle damage to their teeth, quite apart from natural occlusion. The two kinds of dental erosion are clearly distinguishable under a scanning electron microscope. The scientists were thus able to buttress their claim that riding predates even the invention of the wheel by at least five hundred years.

As described in the Scientific American article, excavation at the burial site uncovered a seven-year-old stallion who bore telltale marks on his teeth: the beveling, the scarring of the enamel, the cracks and their location, all supported the conclusion that the stallion had been ridden.

What People are saying about this

Maxine Kumin
In addition to exploring the history, mythology, and contemporary iconography of the horse, Wild About Horses is delightfully well written. I am flattered to be one of the writer/horse lovers to have been interviewed by the author.
Holly Menino
This wide-ranging testament to our long and complex relationship with the horse will bring pleasure and a lot of new infomration to the old hand as well as the complete greenhorn. It introduces some intriguing characters, some remarkable horses, and it lights up unexplored trails that run through horsemanship to culture. Scanlan reminds us the horse is essential to who we are.
Ian Millar
When Larry Scanlan collaborated with me almost 10 years ago on my memoirs, I saw him as a fine writer whose education in the world of horses was just beginning. But all those years of hanging around barns and show rings -- and asking questions, always asking questions -- have paid off. Wild About Horses is a very special and insightful book.
Monty Roberts
In Wild About Horses, Lawrence Scanlan has created one of the most comprehensive books on the horse I have ever read. You will love this book.
Jo Ann Mapson
Wild About Horses is proof that our continued love affair with the horse is far from over. The stories and historical accounts in Lawrence Scanlan's book are lyrical, heartwarming and ultimately hopeful, and deem this book an instant classic to be enjoyed by generations of future horse lovers.
Rita Mae Brown
Here's a book with horsepower!.
Michael Korda
For anyone who loves horses -- or wonders why other people do -- Lawrence Scanlan's Wild About Horses is a treasure-trove of fascinating information, fact, and legend honoring the long, enduring relationship between human beings and our nobler and more graceful companion, the horse.

Meet the Author

LAWRENCE SCANLAN, based in Kingston, Ontario, workedwith Monty Roberts on his New York Times bestseller, The ManWho Listens to Horses, and he is the author of nine booksabout horses, including The Horse God Built: The Untold Storyof Secretariat, the World’s Greatest Racehorse.

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