Book Review: The Horse in Virginia: An Illustrated History by Julie A. Campbell

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If Columbus Day has passed, it must be time to start thinking about holiday gifts. And I'd like to suggest that you pay attention to some of the fantastic new horse books that have been published recently. I plan to scour the pages of Publishers Weekly to learn about new titles and then hunt them down to review them for you! I have to admit that seeing the new film Secretariat piqued my interest in the horse industry in Virginia; and the state just happened to publish a book just in time to go with the movie!

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You probably know that when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in 1865, it meant the end of the US Civil War. But did you know that General Grant did an amazing thing as part of the surrender acceptance?

He tactfully altered the surrender terms and commanded that Lee's men of the Army of Northern Virginia should be allowed to keep their horses, and take them back home with them. Both Lee and Grant knew that the men would return home to find little or nothing left, and to have a horse would give them the beginning of a new life.

Perhaps that little gem of history is some clue to how and why Virginia loves and values its horses even today.

When I first learned about The Horse in Virginia: An Illustrated History by Julie A. Campbell, I was expecting a stodgy, dense history full of lists and details of long-gone masters of foxhounds and endless pedigrees of horses from 200 years ago but what a surprise I had when I received the book!

Yes, all the history is there, including lots on George Washington's equestrian pursuits, and of course the book would mention Secretariat, who was foaled and raised there. But I wasn't expecting Misty of Chincoteague, or Black Jack, the caparison horse at Arlington National Cemetery. I also wasn't expecting such a candid account of the care of the horses of the Confederacy, and the details of the tragic loss of so many wonderful horses.

The book also profiles great horsemen of Virginia, past and present, including Jacqueline Onassis and right up to David and Karen O'Connor and Valerie Kanavy, but also including the "real people" of Virginia and their horses (and ponies and mules) too.

The Horse in Virginia presents Virginia in what I think is its rightful place, as one of the birthplaces (Rhode Island was truly the original birthplace, historians say) of horse sports in the USA and as a state where horses are loved and seen as a valued part of the landscape.

Virginia is certainly rich in equestrian history and deep in its diversity of sports and breeds, but I believe that every state could have a book like this written about its past and present equine traditions and kudos. I think it would be valuable to let people know that horses have deep roots in every state?and a rightful place in the scenery of the entire USA.

This is a big book (296 pages)?with lots of great color and black-and-white photos?beautifully designed and produced?fully indexed (so important to me)?with footnotes that are very helpful and fully fleshed out for further reference?and it's reasonably priced.

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Yes, I would have liked to have seen more on my special interest, the veterinarians and farriers of Virginia, many of whom are at the pinnacles of their professions. Virginia, after all, is home to what I believe is the longest operating farrier school in the USA, Danny Ward's Horseshoeing School (formerly Eastern School of Farriery) in Martinsville, and the Virginia Horseshoers Association is top-notch.

There must be one of the densest per capita populations of veterinarians there, as well. It takes hundreds of vets to serve the state's horses, but the growing Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg is adding to the population each year. The Marion du Pont Scott Equine Medical Center at Morven Park in Leesburg is one of the leading horse surgery and treatment centers in America, and its head surgeon, Dr. Nat White, is the current president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

Whether you live there or not, the horse history and current-day industry of Virginia probably touches your equestrian pursuits or interests. Virginia celebrates its equestrian heritage in these pages and you'll enjoy the panorama this book creates. I am sure that you will hope (along with me) that this book will have many updated editions in the future.

If Virginia ever lets go of its horse industry, we're all in trouble. This book makes its point very clearly?and very beautifully: Virginia's heart is in the right place when it comes to horses.

The Horse in Virginia by Julie A. Campbell. Order from University of Virginia Press; $39.95 plus postage.This book would be a welcome gift to anyone who loves horses and history, regardless of what state he or she calls home!

by Fran Jurga | The Jurga Report at Equisearch.com
Be friends withFran Jurga on Facebook.com

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