by Ben K. Green
I know I read this book long ago as a teen, found at the public library. So when I came across it recently in a discard sale, snatched it up eager to see how it compared to my fond memory. It was a good read- enjoyed all over again.
It\’s a collection of short stories written by a man who traded horses and mules for a living, back when they were the major form of transportation and power in America (although a few stories feature early cars, or tractors first coming into use). The stories are mostly with a little twist- where the man thought he made a good trade but found out the horse had a hidden fault or behavior problem, sometimes thought he had sneakily played a poor horse off on a better trade, only to discover the animal he\’d acquired wasn\’t as advertised, either.
There were mules painted to look like young, grey dapple, a gypsy mare trained to lie down and groan when saddled, a spoiled lady\’s riding horse that wouldn\’t go more than a few yards from the barn. Many times the author showed how he could make the best of a poor situation, due to his understanding of equine behavior- train them out of their bad habits, or cleverly corral a bunch of wild mules that he\’d been given in trade because the prior owner assumed he would never be able to catch them. Most of the tales take place in Texas, a few further south- he traveled a lot in his work. There\’s one story of a match race on a native American reservation. Sometimes, Green couldn\’t make good on a bad trade, and foisted the poor quality mule or horse off on another unsuspecting person. But there are good, honest transactions in here too, where both parties were well satisfied and respected each other.
I was kind of shocked to read an instance of wasted, sickly horses fed arsenic to fatten them up (and have since read online that inorganic arsenic is commonly used in animal feed to make hogs and chickens grow faster). And the last story surprised me with a little detail that made sense of a totally unrelated book I also read and loved as a kid, An Edge of the Forest. In that one, a herd of deer feeds in a valley that makes them all sleep like death. I always puzzled over that. Here in one of Green\’s stories, some wild unbroken horses were put to graze in a valley of \”sleepy grass\” so they could be pawned off as tamed and gentle. There was something in the grass that made the animals lethargic. I\’ve looked it up, and it\’s a real thing. In some ways, this book also reminded me of Mr. Sponge\’s Sporting Tour.
Rating: 3/5 304 pages, 1963