Mar 6, 2011

The Outside of a Horse

The Outside of a Horse
by Ginny Rorby

Hannah Gale starts volunteering at a horse stable because she needs a place to escape. Her father has returned from the Iraq war as an amputee with posttraumatic stress disorder, and his nightmares rock the household. At the stable, Hannah comes to love Jack, Super Dee, and Indy; helps bring a rescued mare back from the brink; and witnesses the birth of the filly who steals her heart. Hannah learns more than she ever imagined about horse training, abuse, and rescues, as well as her own capacity for hope. Physical therapy with horses could be the answer to her father's prayers, if only she can get him to try.
I wound up really liking this book. Allow me to explain. 

Hannah Gale is a thirteen-year-old kid who has never touched a horse, but she is, without question, horse obsessed and has, without fail, watched every Kentucky Derby with her father since she can remember. She was born the year Sea Hero won, and her dad was born in the year of Secretariat. They talk about horse racing like some people memorize baseball stats. Except for the past year, Hannah's dad has been fighting in Iraq and all she wants is for him to return safe and unharmed. She's not going to get her wish. 

When her dad comes back to her, he's missing his leg below the knee and drowns himself in pain medication and alcohol that do little to shut off the nightmares and the flashbacks. Months drag past, and while Hannah's step-mother is edging toward bolting and Hannah is left with more and more responsibility, the only place she can find any peace is at the local barn, where she's fast falling in love with a newborn filly of a rescue Premarin mare. 

The family drama is really the heart and soul of the book. It's frustrating and it's not a quick road to recovery, and I know some people will want to slap everyone in the family, but that's just how watching people fight dependence issues and trauma feels. I don't have a lot of patience, but I stuck with these guys to the end. 

Points of Note:

- Preachiness. Whenever I hear characters go on and on about the evils of Premarin, horse abuse, inhumane horse slaughter in Mexico, training horses too hard as yearlings, kill buyers, horse hoarding, horse racing in general I start to feel my eyes glaze over. It's a really popular subject, especially in recent years, and this book hits all those subjects pretty hard. Barbaro's story is also thrown in, I guess to serve as an emotional punch to the gut of horse racing.

- What is the solution to the world of equine woe? Parelli! No, I'm not kidding. Parelli is mentioned at least fifty times, if the games or whatever aren't being described in detail. If you're not an advocate of Parelli, steer clear. I ride classical dressage, although I don't find myself caring or even wasting much thought about Parelli, and I wanted to throw this book at a wall after a while. After reading this, you might start thinking that the entire Pacific Northwest subscribes happily to Parelli and that the only way to successfully retrain an abused horse and/or rehabilitate traumatized people is through Parelli. Logically, it's idiotic.

- An adult snapping at the main character to grow the hell up after Hannah begs her (whom she is not related to, I might add) for upwards of $800 in order to buy a horse at an auction and after her father explicitly says no, they can't afford it, over the phone. It was awesome. I wish that happened to every main character in horse fiction. 

- The writing is gorgeous. I especially liked the end.

- The horse of her own plot. It is pretty unrealistic, especially concerning what happens to the filly after it belongs to Hannah, considering throughout the book there is concerted effort to describe just how the family is struggling to make ends meet. I don't see how anyone is going to keep a horse when their only real income is disability. Although the author does manage to swing how they can afford to save this horse's life (which seems like a lot of effort for little return, since it's basically stated that the horse probably won't be able to live in the long term), so in the end I give this whole development a pass, but it just barely squeaks by.

All in all, I really liked it. I can't believe I've had it since, um, May of last year and never got around to reading it. Definitely worth the time (unless you loathe Parelli, and then you'll probably just want to set it on fire). 


Lei said...

*promptly torches book*

UGH. I loathe Mr. Handlebars Moostache with a passion of a thousand burning suns. (I wonder if the snake-oil salesman gets a cut of the royalties for all the name dropping)

... and his wife's no picnic either.

I commend you Mara for reviewing this book.

coulrophobic agnostic said...

Yeah, add me to the list of people skipping this one. Preachy books about "abuse" anger me (horse racing. is not. abuse.) and I think Parelli is a tool.

Which is too bad because the family stuff sounds interesting to me.

Ginny Rorby said...

This is a thank you note--for the excellent review, both for the good comments and the not-so-hot ones. I, too, got a little sick of Parelli, but at the time, that form of training was all I was familiar with--other than the kind that is torture for the horse. Anyway, I enjoyed your review, and laughed out loud at the last line. If you get a chance, check out this site--

Thanks again, Ginny Rorby

Mara said...

Hi Ginny,

If you come back to read this, thanks for taking the time to comment. Parelli or no, I greatly enjoyed The Outside of a Horse, and thought it was exceedingly well written. I also especially enjoyed Lost in the River of Grass. I'll be on the look out for more of your work in the future!


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Western Riding with Buck & Bo said...

To whoever put the comment about someone on disability not being to support a horse, that is ignorant.
I'm on disability and have a great horse. I support him just fine. You don't have to spend a ton of money to own or give an awesome an awesome life.