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Big Black Horse    by Walter Farley & James Schucker order for
Big Black Horse
by Walter Farley
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2007 (1953)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The late Walter Farley nurtured his love of horses, and wrote his first book, The Black Stallion, during his high school years. The novel was accepted for publication in 1941, while he was an undergraduate at Columbia University. Farley created forty horse stories, twenty-one of which were specifically dedicated to the Black. In 1953, the author adapted the first half of the popular Black novel into a storybook for children.

The story begins, 'In a country far across the sea lived a big black horse ... with a long tail, a long mane, and long legs'. The Black was wild and free, until one day a group of men roped and blindfolded him, pulled him on board a ship, and penned him in a stall. Still fighting his captivity, his strong hooves crashing against the wooden stall sides could be heard by passengers. A boy named Alec Ramsay, on his return home from a visit with his uncle in India, had watched as the men whipped the magnificent animal, who fought his captors but to no avail.

Alec was determined to befriend the Black. That night Alec approached the stall with lumps of sugar in his hand. He spoke to the Black in a soft, comforting voice, and left the sugar lumps on the stall door. Every night Alec followed the same routine. One very hot evening 'heavy clouds blacked out the stars', as trails of lightning crackled against the sky. Alec found the Black with his head out of the stall door, sniffing the air. The beautiful animal did not pull away as Alec approached. When the ship was struck by lightning, travelers began to abandon ship. Opening the stall door, Alec was accidentally hit as the Black came out of the stall, and they both careened overboard. Grabbing the horse's rope, Alec was pulled to shore by the Black onto a small deserted island.

Walter Farley's Big Black Horse is one of the most outstanding children's books I have had the pleasure of reading. In oversize hardcover, set in short chapter format, Farley's text is accompanied by James Schucker's retro illustrations, expressive of action. The reader will imagine the churning of the sea water, the proud stance of the shiny Black, and Alec's efforts to survive the elements. Big Black Horse is a gorgeous book that portrays the formation of the 'most famous relationship in horse fiction'.

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