Friday, August 27, 2021

Review: Morgan Silver's All the Beautiful Horses by Su Zi

The self-published memoir is rarely expected to be a literary reading experience; however, valuable reading experiences can occur from unexpected books. The memoir, by its nature, seeks to add to our collective wisdom, and that impulse is no more altruistic than in small press and self-published work. Indeed, due to technological mechanization, uniform trade volumes are within the realm of consideration for writers, are easy to shelve in bookstores, and can be interesting curiosities to educated readers. Readers comfortable with online book buying will see a publisher’s imprint as a single detail, and many shopping options will post the most humble publication and the most marketed titles on the same view.

Perhaps in niche topic perusal do curious volumes occur. Morgan Silver’s All the Beautiful Horses (2017) is, at first glance, a memoir about a woman who spent her life with horses, and might be too easily dismissed as a summer read for horse-crazy children only; however, Silver’s memoir goes a bit past stories about horses she has known to stories about who she, herself found herself to be:

      "By age 13, I was at my heaviest, almost 200 pounds, and it was not easy to find clothes in my size. The only used hunt boots I could find that were anywhere close to fitting my calves were men’s size ten with my feet size 8. Even then, I had to have the calves cut open and sew a piece of material into the boots”(28)

Stigma is a familiar topic in memoirs—often overlooked in third person biographies, but often also a distinctive event in an individual’s life. Silver additionally experienced academic problems:

      "School was always hell. I was always the fat kid in my grade […]I remember fearing the walk home from elementary school […] the cruelty of the other kids continued […] Back in those days, learning disabilities were not recognized in an otherwise functional child”(28-29).

Silver makes occasional mention of her weight and her unhappiness at school as a motivation for her life with horses, where she found herself beginning to “win every pony pleasure class we entered”(29). As the memoir continues, we discover a learning disabled woman making a successful career for herself as a professional equestrian.

The Art of Equestrianism is a topic that Silver discusses in each chapter, which is also about a specific equine character. From how to correctly drive a horse trailer, to how to report starvation and abuse, Silver’s memoir covers a lifetime of learning. While horse people are notorious for having their own way of doing things, Silver’s memoir discusses topics uncommon to general horsekeeping and horseshowing; of note is the discussion of side-saddle riding, which was the only way women were allowed to ride a horse in western culture until recent times, but which is now a speciality endeavor. “[…] I slid all over the saddle. I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t sit this horse”(49). Silver goes on to take lessons and attend a summer camp run by Helen Crabtree, who Silver calls “the grand dame of Saddle Seat Equitation”(50). The memoir details study with a number of professional horse people, as well as employment at notable facilities. In traditional equestrian education, this apprenticeship system was the only route to knowledge, and Silver traveled the country to do so.

The reader ought not to be lulled into thinking that this memoir filters out the realities of the horse world. Silver begins with the harsh realities that every horse must collectively fear, and details incompetence at every turn. Yet, if ever a reader seeks to go beyond romanticized notions of the horsey life, or seeks further evidence about the positive effect horses have on stigmatized children, Silver’s memoir is worthy evidence indeed.

Biography:  Su Zi is a poet/writer and artist/printmaker and edits, designs and constructs the eco-feminist poetry chapbook series Red Mare.
Publications include poetry, essays, stories and reviews that date back to pre-cyber publishing, including when Exquisite Corpse was a vertical print publication, and a few editions of New American Writing. More recent publications include Red Fez, Alien Buddha, and Thrice. A resident of the Ocala National Forest, with a dedicated commitment to providing a safe feeding respite for wild birds, and for a haphazard gardening practice that serves as a life model for all aspects of her work.

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