Do you wish you knew of a good book to give your dad for Father's Day? You can go to the bookstore and wander around looking for one, but chances are that you won't find it.
You need some help and I just happen to have a little stack of books here that I'd love to recommend. Each of these books is different from the rest. None are particularly expensive or lavish, but each speaks to a relationship with horses that is practical, longlasting, and full of meaning.
A couple of these books have connections to non-profit organizations that do great things for horses, so purchasing the books (especially directly through the organizations' websites) will have a double benefit.
In fact, you might want to buy these for yourself, as well.
1. Old Friends Standardbreds written by Ellen Harvey, photographed by Barbara Livingston; Messenger Press 2014, $30 hardcover, with 153 full color photos; "coffee table" oversized format.
When Ellen Harvey told me she was doing a book on retired racehorses, I grinned. No nervous Thoroughbreds here; I knew they'd be sensible Standardbreds with dramatic stories of grit and glory and speedy mile times. And when she told me that the book had been photographed by Barbara Livingston, one of my favorite racing shooters, I just said "Sign me up".
Months went by and I almost forgot about it, the same way I almost forget about harness racing sometimes. Then a story or a horse or a memory comes out of nowhere and I am reminded why I like these horses, these people and these stories.
Harness racing continues in the USA, perhaps a bit below the mainstream publicity radar, but you wouldn't say that if you were in it. So an elegant coffee table book seems to take on an added importance: to remind people how wonderful these horses and the sport is and perhaps stir some memories of a famous race, a famous horse, or those trips to the country fairs we used to enjoy.
This isn't a quick drive around the back roads of the Bluegrass. Harvey and Livingston went all the way to Sweden to include Mack Lobell. They went to Maine to play on the beach with a Standardbred dressage horse and foxhunter. They found Moni Maker in Connecticut. They made trips to California and Florida--and lots of places in between, like the famous Hanover Shoe Farm.
They found not just the horses, but the stories. Ellen already knew the horses. Barbara knew just how to twist and tilt the lens of her camera to capture that angle of kindness she first showed us in her original Old Friends books of senior Thoroughbreds. She never fails to bring out the best in a horse.
The book places the famous winners right next to the ungainly losers. Harvey selected them for their story potential, not their cash winnings or bloodlines. A dressage-winning foxhunter in Maine follows a famous stallion with an unusual libido.
I thought this would be a book I'd leaf through for the pictures and then sit down to read "someday", but from the first story, I was hooked. Harvey's beautiful prose explains harness lingo in context and puts Standardbred history and the bloodlines of superstars in perspective. She makes these horses citizens of the world, not just poster-horse examples to promote their breed and sport.
These horses are loved by children; some are raced and owned by rank amateurs; they are wished for, pleaded for, bid on and bought and sold in the pages of this book. The years rolled by until one day, Barbara and Ellen pulled up with tape recorders and long lenses and went to work to document the stories of where lucky and loved horses end up in their senior years.
The horses have long coats in winter, and dapples in the summer; many do not live in the lap of luxury and no chandeliers hang in their stalls. But they are loved by their owners, the fans who remember them and anyone who will flip through this book and look them in their soft, wise old eyes.
This book, like the horses in it, and our relationships with the fathers we love, will get even better with time.
Special event: Join Ellen and Barbara on July 4th at 11:30 a.m. for a book signing and publicity event at the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame in Goshen, New York, where Barbara will talk about the horses in Standardbred Old Friends. Both Ellen and Barbara can both sign your copies of the book, which will be for sale if you don't already have it.
Standardbred Old Friends can be purchased online from the non-profit Harness Racing Museum in Goshen, New York or by calling 845-294-6330. Alternately, contact author and publisher Ellen Harvey via email firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 732-616-6092. Cost per book is $30 plus shipping.