By Nancy McGee
Take a literary ride with me, if you will, through some of our new books that involve horses. Thoughts of the American West, for some, may conjure up images of cowboys and horses. I would like to bring to your attention some of our new books that will have you thinking about horses and their role in the West, past and present, from a broader perspective.
Ginger Gaffney is a horse trainer who volunteered to work with troubled horses and troubled inmates at an alternative prison ranch in New Mexico. “Half Broke: A Memoir” is quite a journey as she tells of her experiences working with feral and dangerous horses and prisoners with addiction, anger, and physical and emotional issues, as well as her own personal struggles. The ranch is run by the inmates and the interplay between healing both them and the horses as they work together is a roller coaster of triumphs and tragedies. Failure for the ranch hands means back to prison and failure for the horses is not an option for Gaffney. The human-animal relationships are key to the rehabilitation for both of them.
Humans bonding with horses is also a prominent theme in “The Compton Cowboys: The New Generation of Cowboys in America’s Urban Heartland” by New York Times reporter Walter Thompson-Hernandez. In 1988, Realtor Mayisha Akbar founded the Compton Junior Posse and Richland Farms as a way to give the youth a safe place to learn horsemanship, form connections with the horses, and have a therapeutic alternative to their rough streets and difficult home lives. Author Thompson-Hernandez grew up not far from Richland Farms and his familiarity with the neighborhood violence and pain gives him an inside perspective and acceptance into the world of the Compton Cowboys, who he remembers from his youth. The story line encompasses the history and legacy of Black cowboys, Compton’s history, the intimate struggles of the cowboys, Olympic and rodeo hopefuls, and the efforts to keep the ranch and its mission alive by continuing to attract local youth and donors.
Horses and cowboys may come to mind when you think of Wyoming, but probably not when you think of Hawaii. The authors of “Aloha Rodeo: Three Hawaiian Cowboys, the World’s Greatest Rodeo, and a Hidden History of the American West” will help change that. David Wolman and Julian Smith take the reader on a historic journey of Hawaiian cowboys (paniolo) that begins with the introduction of cattle to the islands in the 1700s, cattle ranching in the 1800s, and into the 1900s when mainland cowboys were invited to Hawaii for rodeo competition and Hawaiian paniolo were in turn, invited to the Wyoming Cheyenne Roundup. Readers with an interest in history of the American West, rodeo history, and history of Hawaii will not be disappointed in this all-encompassing book.
These titles, as well as other books on horses, the American West, historical fiction, western fiction and much more are available through our Books to Go Program. Check our website at www.akspl.org or call 909-798-7565 for more information.
Nancy McGee is a library specialist at A.K. Smiley Public Library, 125 W. Vine St., Redlands.