Beach Reads 2016: The Horse Books of Summer

What will you be reading this summer? Whether you’re waiting for your next class at a horse show, or watching the tide roll in at the beach, you can pass the time with some great new books about horses, especially their history and their health! (Image © Fran Jurga)

Let’s face it. Your iPad doesn’t want to go to the beach. So much for iBooks and podcasts. Your Kindle doesn’t want to go near the water, either. Yes, there is a Kindle with a daylight-readable screen, but do you really want to get it splashed or have someone kick sand in its face?

At this time every year, our affections return to the good old-fashioned page-turner book. We’re headed on vacation. There may not be a charging station. There may not be wifi. But even with a flashlight, you can keep reading if you have a book. And admit it, there’s something very satisfying about that sound of the pages whispering to you as you turn them. You stare at the author’s photo on the back cover, and after a while, you’re like old friends.

The Jurga Report is happy to share a list of books you might want to check out at your local bookstore, or ask them to order for you. Most have excerpts online that you can check out. Read them all!

The Gospel of Kindness: Animal Welfare and the Making of Modern America by Janet M. Davis

If you only read one book this summer, make it this one. I know it sounds like a snore but it’s not. This book is so relevant to what is going on in the horse world today that it made my head spin, more than once.

The Gospel of Kindness by Judith Davis

Janet M. Davis is associate professor of history at the University of Texas in Austin. While the publisher tries to tie her book on the tail of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the ASPCA, it ranges far beyond a single event.

How to explain it: Animal welfare has a long and colorful history in the United States. What has never been told is that while men were the public faces of the organizations, the real movers and shakers have always been women. These women, many of them wealthy and idealistic, worked tirelessly behind the scenes and often even under the banner of an “auxiliary” organization. They left the front work to the men, it’s true, but they often controlled the purse strings (and endowments) and they did the heavy lifting–such as 700,000 buckets of water gathered from hydrants in the city of Philadelphia in the summer of 1912 so horses could have some clean fresh water.

This book is about kindness to animals in general, but it is not afraid to bring forward the names of some of the women who paved the way, all at the same time as they were fighting for temperance and the right to vote.

Fast forward 100 years, and it is once again women who are at the front lines of horse rescue, wild horse advocacy, slaughter abolition and exhibition/show/racing reform. It is no small coincidence and yet I’ve not found anyone who has heard of the heroines who had the fortitude to fight–ever so gently and ever so persistently–for animals to be saved from the cruelty of their times.

The chapter on women is only part of this book, which forays as far as the ethics and pathos of the Spanish bullfight and cockfighting from Cuba to the Philippines. Horses show up now and again, but this book is more about the principles of defending animals than it is about the specifics. Maybe we’ll have to write that, and timeline it out how we made it to where we are today.

From the publisher: “Embracing animals as brethren through biblical concepts of stewardship, a diverse coalition of temperance groups, teachers, Protestant missionaries, religious leaders, civil rights activists, policy makers, and anti-imperialists forged an expansive transnational “gospel of kindness,” which defined animal mercy as a signature American value. Their interpretation of this “gospel” extended beyond the New Testament to preach kindness as a secular and spiritual truth. As a cultural product of antebellum revivalism, reform, and the rights revolution of the Civil War era, animal kindness became a barometer of free moral agency, higher civilization, and assimilation.”

The Gospel of Kindness: Animal Welfare and the Making of Modern America by Janet M. Davis; Oxford University Press. Hardcover; Published: 29 April 2016; 320 Pages; ISBN: 9780199733156

The Heath and the Horse

Let’s pass quickly here, since I haven’t actually read this book, but desperately want to. If I dwell on it, I may perform the dreaded impulse purchase.

The Heath and the Horse

In a nutshell, this is the story of a place. Not a town or a racetrack but a huge expanse of rolling land in the East of England where racehorses have trained and raced for 350 years. In context: it is 2016. It’s time for a big celebration in Newmarket, one of the horsiest towns in the world. Read about the ground that captivated Stubbs and so many other racing artists to capture horses in motion in one of the most beautiful settings on earth, especially in the early morning hours.

From the publisher’s blurb: “This comprehensive and authoritative book is the first to trace this history from its early beginnings to the present day and to show how and why the sport of horseracing developed on the heath and spread globally from that base. All of the turf’s greatest racehorses and the larger-than-life characters integral to the heath’s history are included, while a great wealth of paintings and prints (which provide the only visual evidence of how racing was conducted and what Newmarket looked like) are illustrated and analyzed.”

The Heath and the Horse: A History of Newmarket Heath by David Oldrey, Timothy Cox, and Richard Nash, from Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd; Hardback; 272 pages; ISBN: 9781781300237; $55.00

Here Comes Exterminator!

Maybe we don’t remember him, exactly. He won the Kentucky Derby 98 years ago, after all, so hardly anyone does remember him. But I remember the wonderful children’s book, Old Bones the Wonder Horse; it was one of my favorites (and still is). Sometimes we forget that some of those horses we read about as kids really did exist. And they really accomplished all that history says they did. In Exterminator’s case, no one’s done it since.

Exterminator shouldn’t have been able to win much of anything, but he didn’t know that. He’s often recalled as one of the few geldings to win the Kentucky Derby. He won 50 races–more than most horses today race in in a lifetime, and he did it without much respect from the racing establishment–or even his own owner.

Author Eliza McGraw has painted a portrait of Exterminator by creating a negative space for him to fill. She begins by painting the space around him, explaining where the world of Thoroughbred racing was in the United States in the early 20th century, and where it was headed–until, of course, World War I changed everyone’s plans.

But for a twist or two of fate, Exterminator might have been on a ship headed to France to do his part in the War. Instead, he stood blinking in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs, with a wreath of red roses draped over his neck.

Did you read this book as a child? If so, you know who Exterminator was!

But where was there to go for a gelding, particularly a gelding whose owner didn’t quite believe in him as much as his fans did. Again, history takes over, and we learn about how the US Remount Service embraced Thoroughbred racing and breeding (or was it the other way around?) and how cruel racing secretaries could be in assigning weights and filling races in order to attract a good betting crowd.

Exterminator was a working class horse who had a brush with greatness and a heart that kept him winning. His long career gave Americans a chance to get to know him and respect him and even identify with him.

I won’t tell you how it ends.

If you’d like to meet author Eliza McGraw, head to Saratoga Springs, New York on Friday, August 19, 2016; she will be signing Here Comes Exterminator at the National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame at 7:30 p.m. 

Read an excerpt:

“Here Comes Exterminator! The Long-Shot Horse, the Great War, and the Making of an American Hero” by Eliza McGraw. Thomas Dunne Books, $26.99 hardcover. ISBN 9781250065698.

The Coloring of Horses

Here’s a first for The Jurga Report. In ten years of reviewing new books for this blog, I don’t think I’ve ever recommended a coloring book, but adult coloring is a relatively new phenomenon. I admit that I don’t really “get” adult coloring, but then again, the idea of zoning out on a rainy day in the cabin with a set of nice sharp colored pencils and The Amazing World of Horses coloring book could put me in a zen-like state. If I can sit still that long, that is!


Artist Cindy Elsharouni creates a fantasy world for us all to fill in, but I can’t help but wonder what the process is that allows her to draw such artwork as line art without the colors. Or does she create the work in color and then somehow de-layer it down to black and white lines? Does she work in invisible ink that disappears from the page?

And there’s more to come! “There’s a volume 3 in the making. It should be out by mid to late summer,” Cindy told me today.

I suppose those are trade secrets of coloring book illustrators, but it does make you think. Her elegant and intricate artwork make you think of Peter Max or an intricate fabric design. And that’s a very wonderful thought to have. Get lost, and let a colored pencil be your guide!

About this book: From Createspace, published in January 2016, ISBN 978-1523394180, 96 pages. $17.99. Order directly from the artist/publisher at or via her Facebook page.

Can that be it? No, there are many more books that should be in this review. Two serious non-fiction reference books worth investing in are Wild Equids: Ecology, Management and Conservation, edited by Jason Ransom and Petra Kaczensk and Laminitis: Understanding, Cure, Prevention by Remco Sikkel (the original Dutch book has been translated to English).

Under the heading of ICYMI (“in case you missed it”), I still recommend Battleship: A Daring Heiress, a Teenage Jockey, and America’s Horse, by Dorothy Ours. It is the story of Battleship, who crossed the Atlantic to win the Grand National. His owner was Marion duPont Scott…and he wore a crazy bar shoe. 

Along the same lines, catch up with Clare Balding for My Animals and Other Family. The television racing and eventing commentator reflects on what it meant to grow up with a famous horse trainer for a father and animals of every kind all around her–it will make you laugh and cry at the same time.

Elizabeth Letts’ exciting new book is due late this summer; perhaps in time for a beach read for Labor Day weekend?

Finally, carve out some time this fall for two important new books One is The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts, bestselling author of Snowman, the Eighty-Dollar Champion.It is due in late summer. She takes us behind the lines in World War II to see how Germany planned to build the most extravagant horse breeding operation the world had ever known. And they almost did it. The Lipizanners and General Patton were only the beginning! Watch for it!

A special book coming in October is The Age of the Horse by journalist Susanna Forrest of the “If Wishes Were Horses” blog. Susanna sweeps around the globe to give us the historic and sometimes folkloric story behind some of the world’s great horses. I know this will be a book to devour and remember.

What will you be reading this summer–or what are you already reading? Leave a comment below and stop by my Facebook page and leave a note there with your favorite books of this summer. 

Fran Jurga is a freelance writer in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she writes about horses and marine science. The AIM Equine Network has hosted her multiple award-winning articles on The Jurga Report since 2006. Follow Fran on Twitter or Facebook, and come back here to read more about the issues and problems that face our horses.




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