Somebody’s Horse by Dorothy Nafus Morrison
Troll, 1st printing, 1987
Genre: YA, horses
Synopsis & Review: When her parents go on an unexpected and sudden business trip to Korea, Jenny Alexander is upset, but when she realizes that they mean to send her to stay with a great-aunt for the summer, she is devastated. Jenny has spent the entire year saving money for this summer, the summer she’ll be allowed to spend taking jumping lessons on the beautiful Cinnabar at her local stables. But the Aunt Evelyn comes up with a plan: her daughter Lorelei’s just bought property in the tiny town of Pine Valley, Wyoming, and the previous owners have left her with a horse. So Jenny travels from her California home to stay with her cousin Lorelei and her two children for the summer. At least this way she’ll still have a horse to work with–but oh, what a horse!
The horse in question is decrepit and sick, and filthy to boot. But once Jenny gets him cleaned up and cared for, she makes a surprising discovery: not only is the horse far younger than she thought, he’s a fine piece of horseflesh, and has been trained by someone. Jenny learns first barrel racing, then jumping on the horse, but all the while she wonders who could have abandoned such an animal, and whether they’ll come looking for him.
Though it’s not universal, a lot of girls go through a horse phase when they’re young. Many grow out of it, but for some it remains a lifelong passion. Even I suffered through a horse phase, mostly in elementary school. Living in Honolulu and not being wealthy made it difficult for me to actually indulge my passion with real, live horses, so instead I read about them voraciously. I read classics like Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka, and Misty of Chincoteague (and the attendant sequels), and books I inherited from my far more horse-mad eldest sister; King of the Wind and Can I Get There by Candlelight are the ones I remember best. I also checked out non-fiction, devouring books on breeds and the care and training of horses, convinced it might come in handy one day. (It never did.) When I was little, I often pretended to be a horse, and spent countless trips to the supermarket with my mother galloping, cantering, and trotting up and down the aisles.
By the time I acquired my Dorothy Nafus Morrison books, I was mostly over the whole thing, but I still enjoyed them, largely because Morrison had a strong understanding of horse-mad girls, girls who endlessly think about horses, read about horses, draw horses. Only, her girls actually got to ride and own horses. Jenny is a vividly drawn character, an young girl with her own doubts and troubles, but also strengths. And like any young person, she sometimes thinks she can handle things all alone, refusing to ask for help when she needs it most. Morrison’s adults are similarly real, with their own troubles, but they stay largely in the background, never dominating the story. The small ranching town and Wyoming wilderness that form the backdrop to the story are created with authentic details confirming that Morrison knows the worlds her characters inhabit, and that she respects them.
My stepmother gave me Somebody’s Horse for Christmas, after first having it autographed for me. When I was younger, she worked for the Oregon Historical Society’s publishing division, particularly on their Eager Beaver imprint and children’s books. As a consequence, my little sister and I read a lot of books by Oregon authors, including two of Morrison’s non-fiction works, Chief Sarah: Sarah Winnemucca’s Fight for Indian Rights and The Eagle & the Fort: The Story of John McLoughlin. Her horsey books, Somebody’s Horse, Whisper Goodbye, and Whisper Again, are all worth checking out for vivid depictions of the Western horseworld and moving stories about girls and their horses.
Cover: Jenny riding Farfalla, with a lovely Wyoming backdrop. Very good cover, the kind that I would have snatched up in my horse phase.
She knew she sounded bitter, but she couldn’t help it. She thought about her parents’ trip … Aunt Evelyn’s house … the interminable year when she’d saved her money like a regular miser, so she could learn to jump with Cinnabar. No Cokes. Hardly any movies. She remembered the trip on the airplane, hoping and hoping that she’d find a good horse. And then–her first look into the stall. It had been like going over the biggest drop of the biggest roller coaster ever built. She wanted to run away, or curl up by herself in a little dark hole.
“I tried not to expect too much, but …” She glanced again at Horse, who was shuffling along with his eyes almost closed. “Still, I can’t help liking him, in a way. He’s such a patient old fellow, and when we curried him, he acted as though he thought it was heaven. If-if only he weren’t so crummy.”