Friday, February 25, 2011

Thomas McGuane, Some Horses

Here's a sample of what's coming up starting Monday - Montana Week. I'll be posting reviews of five nonfiction books by Montana writers. Sticking with nonfiction makes the choosing a heckuva lot simpler, since Montana has been well supplied with fine writers of all kinds over the years.

I've already mentioned some of them with reviews of Richard Wheeler's An Obituary for Major Reno, B. M. Bower's Chip of the Flying U, Teddy Blue Abbott's We Pointed them North, David McCumber's The Cowboy Way, Tom Groneberg's The Secret Life of Cowboys, A. B. Guthrie, Jr.'s crime novel Playing Catch-Up, Con Price's Memories of Old Montana, and Larry Watson's White Crosses, which gets in under the wire as a novel by a North Dakota-born novelist writing about Montana.

Today's book (whose title always makes me think of the Rolling Stones' Some Girls), is a well-written and amusing collection of essays by novelist Thomas McGuane. McGuane's fiction can be amusing, too, in a whacked-out way. But this book wants to be no more than a thoroughly entertaining journey into the complex relationship that can exist between human and equine intelligence.

Cutting horse at work, photo by Tomas Caspers
One essay is about rodeo calf-roping and another about mountain trail riding and camping in snow, but most of the essays are about McGuane's experience with cutting horses. Developed as a specialized skill of horse and rider on open rangeland, cutting is the exacting art (and now sport) of separating out a single cow or calf from a herd of cattle.

Given the strong herd instinct of cows, this is no mean feat, and it takes a fine horse, superior training, and a competent rider to do it well and consistently. In these essays, each devoted to individual horses, McGuane invites the reader into this world of nonverbal communication between horse, rider, and cow.

Sidebar note: I made a trip over to Temecula, California, one day to watch timed trials of cutting horses doing their stuff, and it beats a lot of what passes for entertainment these days. (Temecula, I'm told by my neighbor, is an Indian word for a layer of haze along a valley floor, caused by humidity.)

In the hands of another writer, this subject could easily be arcane, technical, vague, or dry as corral dust. But McGuane makes literature of it. The opening essay owes its rambling form and spirit to Montaigne, and all of them are rich with sharply observed details, nuances of emotion, and fascinating character sketches of both people and horses. The only thing dry is McGuane's wry sense of humor. In the essay about a winter road trip with his wife and four horses from Southern California to Montana, I was laughing out loud.

You don't have to be a horse lover for this one. All that's required is a curiosity about animal psychology and the place where it comes in contact with the psychology of humans. Some Horses is available new at amazon and used at AbeBooks.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons 

Coming up: Montana Week


  1. An interesting tome! Might just have this one.

  2. I tried one of McGuane's novels years ago and got bogged down for some reason. Time to try again. Also, I'm sure I would enjoy this collection of nonfiction.

  3. Very good points you wrote here..Great stuff...I think you've made some truly interesting points.Keep up the good work. Horse Barn