Friday 25 August 2006

The Horse God Built (Secretariat, His Groom, Their Legacy) by Lawrence Scanlan

Release Date August 31, 2006.
Reviewed as part of the First Look program.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket From the Publisher (Harper Collins Canada) :

Most of us know the legend of Secretariat, the tall, handsome chestnut racehorse whose string of honours runs long and rich: the only two-year-old ever to win Horse of the Year, in 1972; winner in 1973 of the Triple Crown, his times in all three races still untouched; featured on the cover of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated; the only horse listed on ESPN’s top 50 athletes of the 20th century. His final race at Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack is a touchstone memory for horse lovers everywhere. Yet while Secretariat will forever be remembered, one man who was pivotal to the great horse’s success has been all but forgotten—until now. In The Horse God Built, bestselling equestrian writer Lawrence Scanlan has written a tribute to an exceptional man that is also a backroads journey through a corner of the racing world seldom visited.

As Secretariat’s groom, Edward “Shorty” Sweat had far more contact with the horse than anyone, and no one understood him better. Travelling through the American South, hanging about the tracks and the barns of thoroughbred racing, Scanlan reveals a skilled and much loved black man of the old South, who had a consuming fatherly passion and dedication to “his” horse. We see the racing world through the eyes of a man who died in poverty, his standing-room-only funeral packed with friends and family—yet unattended by the other principals in Secretariat’s life. We hear colourful backstretch anecdotes about Eddie and Secretariat from coworkers, jockeys, trainers and owners, all contributing not just to one man’s story, but to a portrait of a powerful bond between human and horse.

I hadn't known what to expect from this book but I know that I hadn't considered that I wouldn't be able to put the book down. I was caught from the start and while I know little about horses and much less about racing, I couldn't help but want to read more. While I was born too late to have known anything about Secretariat, I find myself wishing with all I am that I could have seen him race.

The author paints the imagery with such detail that the reader can almost feel they experienced it first hand. I loved learning about this great horse and found myself at times in awe of him and at other times I actually caught myself chuckling out loud as parts of his personality sprang from the pages.

It has certainly changed the way I see horses and I have a deep respect for those who work with them and those (seemingly) rare few who strive to improve the quality of horses lives. I am not sure what I think of the horse racing industry as a whole and I am trying to keep in mind that this is just one book on the subject and I should read more about it before I decide. I do know though that I was disgusted by a lot of the references, whether it was the practice of putting profit and winning ahead of a horses comfort and health, the often terrible conditions that grooms work in (and their lack of reward for jobs well done) or many other things.

I know I definitely need to read up more about horses. One part of the book especially disturbed me and that was lightly brushing over the subject of summer riding camps and the practice (With some camps) of sending horses to the slaughterhouse at the end of a season rather than pay for the food and board of the animals over the winter season. That just made me totally sick. Moreso given the reading earlier in the book about the conditions the horses deal with on their rides to many slaughterhouses. It's little wonder that so many people prefer animals over people when humans can show such a level of cruelty.

Great book. Even if the reader has little or no interest in racing, it would be a pity to miss out on this wonderful book and the glimpse into the bond between horse and owner (or horse and groom as often was the case in this book). Much of that content was truly heartwarming. That relationship comes across as so pure and innocent and I was blessed to have been able to experience it via these pages.


Jeane said...

Great review. I definitely want to read this one. Have you read Seabiscuit? I had difficulty getting through that one; maybe I'll like this better.

Charlene Martel said...

Yeah this book was absolutely brilliant. I thought I would have problems getting through it but I couldn't put it down.

I haven't read Seabiscuit. I bought the movie and watched that but it took me two attempts to see it all the way through (I fell asleep the first time). Now that I have seen the movie, I am curious about the book.

I think it would be hard to match The Horse God Built though. I would be really surprised if you didn't like it. I was almost in tears at times when I was reading some of the stuff horses go through.