The Thracian Filly

by Ivy

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 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.

Mary O’Hara

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
Each turning-end
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

12 thoughts on “The Thracian Filly

  1. It’s dangerous to read your blog! Each time you mention a book, I wander off onto my favorite used book websites, certain that your recommendation means hours of reading pleasure. I stopped myself just in time today (no more book ordering this summer!), but the Flicka series is on my list now.

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  2. This poem – had I known about it – would have been a perfect fit for the introductory section of a talk I have given a few time on the role of horses during the Anglo-Boer War. I referred to the Thracians when dealing with the historical relationship between humans and horses – particularly in warfare.

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  3. Dear Gretchen,

    thank you; just now realizing I may respond to the e-mail. Wonderful post and hadn’t thought of Flicka series in years. In the last line of the poem, is “car” correct? Interesting. loved the poem.

    Sandra B. Thistle Cove Farm

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  4. I loved the artwork at the top. Great horse! My summer favorites are those books by Mary O’hara. But this year I am rereading the Little Britches series. Among others. I liked the poem as well. You made me think about Green Grass of Wyoming. My cousins and I read them all one summer, and we couldn’t have been any older than 12 and I don’t think I paid any attention that they were for adults. We read everything we could get our hands on anyway. I enjoyed your thoughts as always. It makes me ponder too.

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  5. I don’t remember any of my children reading Flicka books. Strange since second oldest daughter went through a “horse crazy” phase.
    I wondered about the car too. Thanks for explaining.

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  6. I wondered about the use of ‘car,’ as well. Etymology to the rescue! I found this at the Etymology Online site entry for ‘car’:

    *kers-

    the Proto-Indo-European root meaning “to run” forms all or part of: car; carriage;chariot; [and many others].

    It is the hypothetical source of the Greek -khouros “running;” and Latin currere “to run, move quickly.”

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  7. I was one of those pre-adolescent girls who read all of the horse books I could get my hands on. I loved “My Friend Flicka,” but Marguerite Henry books were my favorite – maybe because of the illustrations, or maybe because the Mary O’Hara books were a little over my head now that you mentioned it. I’ve never returned to them as an adult, but now I’m curious to pick one up again. I’ve always been a little sad that none of my kids ever really cared much for horse books, but the horse crazy girl reader is an interesting phenomenon.

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