When I was sixteen, I held my dad's hands while on my knees pleading to God for him not to die. "Dad, dad, dad," I cried out, as he lay there on his back with his hands and fingers in a firm position grasping the reins of a five gait mare. He was in a place of contentment as he spoke, "Whoa mare, that's a girl!" and made those familiar clicking sounds that I often heard when I was a little boy watching him ride the horses everyday in the summer. Then in a calm moment, with his hands gently relaxed in mine, his face revealed a soft smile and he took his last breath and his last ride.My father, Thomas Downing was a horse trainer, one of the forgotten horsemen who was born and raised in the Saddlebred kingdom of North Middletown, Kentucky. He had a natural, uncanny and remarkable gift of relating to horses, proven by the trust and confidence exhibited by the horses toward him. Although my dad was a man of few words, his true voice, a voice that spoke volumes, was spoken within his work and accomplishments with the horses he trained. He often preferred to spend time with the horses over most people and it was that bond which enabled him to train the horses so effectively. This book is about a summer weekend I spent as a ten year old boy, helping my father at a horse show and the invaluable lessons of life I learned from my dad and his fellow forgotten horsemen, who a contemporary of theirs called them, "Great Men with Great Horses". It was over this weekend that I would learn more about my father, horses and life than I ever thought imaginable.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The above familiar adage gently describes the poignant core of this very fine new book A FORGOTTEN HORSEMAN: A Son's Weekend written with such touching sincerity and tender style that it becomes more than a book about a child's coming of age: this is a tribute to those who came before and to those who have benefited from the dignity of some fine men. Author Lee E. Downing, a retired educator, uses the format of a memoir to recall the moments of looking through the window of childhood into the world of becoming a man. And as is indicative of this writer's style, he opens his story in a classroom when after giving his students instructions for an exam, he sits and gazes out through a similar window into memory. The topic is a weekend when Downing accompanied his horse trainer father on a trip to compete with horses trained by his father and his friends. In relating the events around the weekend, Downing not only gives us a history of the Saddlebred horsemen (with the star Tom Bass a legend among the African American men), but he also tells of the fascinating preparation of the horses for running - the care, the bathing and grooming, the warm-ups, the compassion for these creatures of nature, etc - which he learned that weekend in the presence of his father and comrades. All of that is superb writing and most informative, but for this reader that portion of the book is secondary to the real messages Downing so discretely shares. This is a story from the year 1959, a time before the major changes in race relations had occurred, a story related by a young boy learning the pains of prejudice, inequality, and yet the enormous dignity of the genteel men surrounding him with tales on this single weekend. In his father's words, 'Always remember, Lee, the most difficult things to do are always the right things to do,' and this very basic moment of advice serves to introduce the author to the manner in which his father and friends have coped with the life of African Americans during their childhood. And by being accepted into the inner sanctum of the horsemen as an equal that weekend provides the door to Downing's step into manhood and has supplied him with such profound memories that he ultimately elected to share them with us. This is the time of memoirs and a time for critiquing people's lives through the written word, whether fictionalized, embellished, or challenged by the media for the sake of publicity. Lee Downing's 'memoir' pleads the case for a different classification: Downing gives us in a short 200 pages a frozen moment in time that changed his life and his view of his universe. It is one of those stories like those spun at night, in the firelight, in a gathering of loved ones, in a suspended moment of remembrance. This is a wise, well written, beautifully shared experienced, one from which we all can grow. Recommended for all readers. Grady Harp