My direct experience with horses was mostly long ago when some of my childhood friends owned them and I rode a few times. My late husband and I might have gone on a ride once, too. 95% of what I know about the animals intellectually I learned just a few months ago, from the Flicka series of books by Mary O’Hara. I’d wanted to read them for more than thirty years, as I saw my children enjoying them one by one. Finally I was in the mood and our well-worn paperback copies were still on the shelf — just the right size, too, for reading in bed at night until my eyes would begin to close.
I’ve never read anything like them; I kept wondering who was O’Hara’s intended audience. I used to think they were young adult novels, but now I realize they aren’t. They feature plot threads of coming-of-age, and the young love between one boy and a girl who also loves horses was very sweet and believable. But the adults’ perspective on their children, and the drama of their marriage, seemed to me to be beyond the scope of what a young person would be interested in.
I was surprised at how much the books were about the animals, the wild horses that are the main business of the Wyoming ranch where the family lives and where the boys are expected to participate in the work and bear serious responsibility to a degree that is rare these days. When I read this ancient poem it took me back to O’Hara’s stories, and especially the intimate knowledge of horse behavior that she seems to have.
In the books, not all of the wild horses that the horse tamers deal with are ultimately harnessed and saddled like the one in Ivy’s drawing, and everyone in the ranch family appreciates and respects their free and spirited friskiness and is careful not to entirely kill it.
THE THRACIAN FILLY
Ah tell me why you turn and fly,
My little Thracian filly shy?
Why turn askance
That cruel glance,
And think that such a dunce am I?
O I am blest with ample wit
To fix the bridle and the bit,
And make thee bend
In harness all the course of it.
But now ’tis yet the meadow free
And frisking it with merry glee;
The master yet
Has not been met
To mount the car and manage thee.
-Anakreon (582 – 485 BC) Greece
Translated by Walter Headlam