25 January 2009


I've been a fan of Dick Francis novels for ages. I rarely read fiction anymore--my love of fiction ended with the glorious works of the 19th Century--but I do have a weakness for horse-related fluff. And over the years, I relished the growth of style in the Dick Francis novels. At his mature best, Francis could even handle sex scenes deftly, and his formula works were delightful treats. As one of my equally horsie lit/crit friends once said, his novels were even more wonderful because, a year on, one could read them again with almost equal delight.

And yet I picked up Silks, co-written with son Felix, with some trepidation because Dick Francis was born in 1920. I worried about how much of him would be in this novel. I fear it's not much.

I'm still reading with enjoyment, but my lit/crit training has kicked in uncomfortably. I'm feeling the need for editorial comment. I want to edit clumsy heaping of fact where it's not needed and rewrite some nagging telling where a few whip strokes of showing would urge the plot forward.

What has really bothered me though is the perfunctory use of horses in this novel. I'm so used to the depth of Dick Francis's knowledge and love of horses that I read his work expecting to hear hoofbeats, smell the sweat, and feel the abiding love of the horse.

This evening, however, I reached the scene where the narrator and his horse take a bad fall in an amateur race. The narrator describes the fall well, and, since it was obvious the narrator survived, I flipped the page worrying about the horse.

The plot moved forward several months without mention of the fate of the horse.

I was stunned. Then I felt actual anger at the narrator, a fictional character. This is NOT the sort of person--fictional or otherwise--I want to know. The narrator OWNED this horse. Had this been one of many mounts of a professional jockey, the lack of concern would have been understandable. But an amateur jockey who fails to detail the fate of a horse he owns--ugh.

A few pages later, the detached narrator at least ASKS after the horse while in hospital, but only in passing. I wanted details. I kept turning pages, thinking, great, at least the horse survived, but, because of this lack, I didn't give a flip about the narrator's back injury or the central mystery. I wanted the concise vet report Dick Francis would have woven in without stalling the story an iota.


So this is different from the Dick Francis novels I've enjoyed for so many years. It's quite likely that son Felix will carry on the family business and carry it on admirably. If he's as diligent as his father, his style will smooth out and his pace quicken. Over the years, I enjoyed Dick Francis's growth as a writer. Early on, he sometimes started slowly and showed a few clumsy strides, but even his awkward moments showed class and a promise of closing speed. And at his best, he came through in grand style.

Perhaps his son Felix will improve his style. That's doable. This is a decent journeyman effort. While this Francis novel is often stilted and in need of another rewrite or two, it is enjoyable formula fiction. I just wish Felix had his father's passionate love of horses. That's what is lacking in Silks.

13 January 2009

Price Downturns -- Not Just for US Housing

Here's one of the lead stories at TheBloodHorse.com today: "Keeneland Opening Average Plummets 45.9%":

The results were grim, but not surprising, as Keeneland opened its January horses of all ages sale in Lexington during a time of worldwide economic downturns. The gross revenue Jan. 12 plummeted 44% from the auction’s first session in 2008 while the average price dropped 45.9%. The median price suffered the most damage, falling 50.9%.
Not surprising, indeed. But this sale shows the extent of the downturn since this is an upper-end racing stock sale:

The 202 horses that sold grossed $11,945,900 and averaged $59,138. The median was $27,000. Last year, 195 horses were sold during the first session for a gross of $21,325,900 and an average of $109,364. The median was $55,000.
So this is not where mom and dad go to buy a nice show hunter prospect for little Emily.

However, with high-end warmblood prices still holding up fairly well, I'm actually hearing some show people are starting to venture into the mid-range TB sales looking for show horse prospects.

And many sites, such as TheHorse.com, now have lists of free Thoroughbreds.

Free horse--an oxymoron if there ever was one.

I need to get one of those T-shirts with this text:

I do NOT need another horse.
I do NOT need another horse.
I do NOT need another horse.
I do NOT need another horse.

03 January 2009

For Riding Instructors

Anyone who reaches riding using the principles of dressage would do well to read both Lounging the Rider for a Perfect Seat: A How-To Guide for Riders, Instructors, and Longeurs by Benedik
Learning to Ride As an Adult: A New Training Method for First-Time Riders by Prockl.

Benedik doesn't believe anyone has a perfect seat, of course, so the title is a bit misleading.

In a way, Prockl's title is also misleading. And I would argue that her thesis is a bit iffy too. She contends that children are relaxed and natural on horses. This has not been my experience. I've started several girls under ten and found them to be among the most fearful and tense creatures I've ever met. I don't have any students under ten right now, but I suspect the exercises Prockl suggests adults do on a yoga ball would be of great benefit to a great many child riders too. So I wish Prockl had used a title that suggests the main topic of her book: learning to sit well through the use of an exercise ball.

02 January 2009

Current Reading List

I'm just getting started here, and I just realized that I neglected a primary portion of my life when I didn't list "reading" as an interest.

Of course, I don't consider reading an interest. It's a necessity, a joy, the gateway to everything else.

Here's what I'm currently reading that's horse-related:

Carriage Driving: A Logical Approach through Dressage Training by Bean and Blanchard

The Circle of Trust: Reflections on the Essence of Horses and Horsemanship by Zettl

Lounging the Rider for a Perfect Seat: A How-To Guide for Riders, Instructors, and Longeurs by Benedik

Learning to Ride As an Adult: A New Training Method for First-Time Riders by Prockl

The Truth about Horses: A Guide to Understanding and Training Your Horse by McLean