As an author, I try to heed the advice of other writers who recommend reading as much as possible. Fortunately that advice led me to read The First Horse I See, by Sally Keehn. As an adult, I enjoyed this book even more than I would have had I read it as a young adult, the intended audience. The story was engaging; the characters believable; and the writing superb. Keehn’s literary background shone through in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, from interwoven themes in the plot to the immersion of poetry and famous quotes as natural parts of the text. It was a beautiful book that left one thinking about far more than horses.
In the story, the main character, Willo, is promised a horse before her mother dies, and Willo’s grandfather and dad follow through with the promise. Against her grandfather’s wishes, Willo falls for the first horse she sees, an underweight, spirited, abused ex-racehorse. Willo’s journey with the untrusting mare are reflective of many first horse ownership situations, but are magnified by the events occurring in the rest of the girl’s life. An absentee alcoholic father; a mother still greatly in her thoughts; a neighbor boy of the right age; a grandfather learning to be a full-time parent; and the pressure to succeed with a difficult horse, all add great texture to this moving novel.
I loved the book – could you tell? It wasn’t a happy, all-is-well book, but there were so many poignant messages. From the equestrian side: how many of us have fallen for horses that we shouldn’t have? And learned to love them, but still harbored frustration and doubts? From each of the main character’s perspectives: how do we deal with grief, change, disappointment, daily highs-and-lows, and new, unexpected roles in life? The author even educated me to the significance of “goodbye,” as “God be with you.” The story takes place in Maryland, and the descriptions either make a Marylander feel at home or transport those who have never visited to a place they can see through words.
In this Christmas season, God be with you and yours. And if you find time to curl up with a good book, I highly recommend The First Horse I See.