by Molly Gloss
After the compelling read that was Conversations with a Prince, I was in the mood to read more about horses, so pulled all the books I could find off my TBR shelves. Unfortunately, The Hearts of Horses couldn\’t stand up to the previous read, but it was a good story regardless. Just not as in-depth as I wanted, not as much about horses as I wanted, so rather pale in comparison.
It\’s the story of a solitary woman who lives during WWI era, filling in a ranch job left vacant by men gone to war. She rides from farm to farm breaking young and untamed horses to saddle. I was intrigued by the premise and wanted to read more about the psychology, physical work and human-animal communication involved in teaching horses, particularly since the woman in this story, Martha, stood out for more than just doing what was then considered a man\’s job. She also had unconventional methods, gentling the horses via communication with body language rather than forcing them into submission. Reminded me a lot of The Man Who Listens to Horses by Monty Roberts (which I can\’t believe I haven\’t written about yet).
What I got instead was very much a story about community, and how people work together. Martha is not much of a \”people person,\” she prefers the company of the horses. But her job entails riding daily between several ranches in order to work with a string of unbroken horses, one after another (to fit the most work into a day). So gradually she becomes involved with those around her; the struggling ranch owners, lonely wives, hired hands all come to know and respect her. Some are bitter, some cruel to the animals, others want to confide in her. She helps out when she feels it is needed- several times rescuing animals that have fallen over roadsides towards rushing water, helping to find lost stock, riding at a moment\’s notice for the doctor. A certain level of human suffering rose out of the book into my consciousness; medical care was primitive and limited; one character was dying of cancer and there was literally no treatment available (aside from the option of a crude, costly and ultimately ineffective surgery). In another ironic situation, a drunkard\’s family fell suddenly ill after eating improperly home-canned food. Martha drove the woman and children to the hospital, then rode off the find the husband and inform him what had happened to his family. She did find him, but he was drunk and found sport in frightening her horse off the road. She and her horse were injured, she had no chance (or desire I imagine) to speak to him, and he arrived home, ate the same canned food and died alone, all unknowing. I could not get that scene out of my head for a long time.
That\’s just a little bit of what was in this book. There are a lot more interesting stories about the small community. Stories of women, young and old, filling in for their missing men. Of newcomers hoping to work the land and finding disappointment. Of mismanagement and greed, of sacrifice and charity. There\’s a slowly-growing romance between Martha and one of the hired hands she meets, that was satisfactory. There\’s also the effects of the war and its news on everyone, and the persecution against a certain ranching family of German descent. But overall I wanted more about the horses, so it was just a good read to me, nothing more.
Rating: 3/5 289 pages, 2007