Spicewood author releases book about '100 Horses'



Contributed --

'100 Horses in History' is the result of a 10-year writing project undertaken by Spicewood author Gayle Stewart.

By Emily Hilley-Sierzchula

The Highlander



Many people have an overriding interest in a subject, a lifelong motif, but few follow through with a decade of research and writing to produce a substantial book about it.

When Gayle Stewart of Spicewood embarked on delineating “the talents and deeds” of historical and more recent horses that impacted humankind, she didn’t know the result would be her recently released piece of nonfiction, 100 Horses in History–True Stories of Horses Who Shaped Our World.

Stewart has been writing about horses for over 30 years, including numerous magazine and newspaper stories and book contributions.

This latest book, however, got its start many years ago with a conversation about “Traveller,” Robert E. Lee’s gray charger.

“Around the breakfast table everyone started talking about old, famous horses they knew about,” Stewart recalled. “My brother and sister suggested I start a file on my computer to write about famous horses as I thought of them, and before I knew it I would have a book.”

Of course, it wasn’t quite so easy, but it was not as difficult as it might sound “to find 100 really wonderful horses,” Stewart said.

Sure, people likely have heard of “Secretariat” and “Seabiscuit” who were made famous by movies and press coverage of their prowess on the tracks, but what about “Aristides” and “Macaroni?”

Books already abound about specific types of horses.

Stewart’s book crosses genres by including war horses, race horses, show horses and the starts of breeds like Blaze, the first Clydesdale (from a dale in the River of Clyde region in Scotland.) Even the Trojan horse from Greek mythology gets a refresher.

Some entries started with Stewart’s midnight musings: who was the first woman rider to win an Olympic medal in show jumping? Answer: famous English horseback rider Pat Smythe, riding “Flanagan.”

In others, she revisits history with details not outlined routinely in well-worn narratives.

“It was like a treasure hunt,” Stewart said. “One discovery would lead to another.”

Consider one of the most famous horses in history, the horse carrying Paul Revere warning Patriots about an impending British advance in 1775.

Research led to her biggest revelation.

“I didn’t know Revere and his horse were captured by British soldiers after their famous ride through the countryside,” Stewart said. “After awhile, they got tired of fooling with him and turned him loose, so they must have been really nice soldiers.” But, they kept the horse, whose name has never been verified through the Paul Revere House.

Stewart tracked down records from the family from whom Revere borrowed the horse. “The Larkin family papers said the horse made famous by Paul Revere was a mare named 'Brown Beauty',” she said.

Four-legged lessons

Stewart started writing the book with children in mind, but she realized lessons could be learned by adults as well as youngsters.
“Horses throughout history have taught lessons in loyalty, inspired by their courage under fire and at the finish line,” she wrote. “They are like people, making contributions unique to their talents and time in history--in a race, a battle, or a great adventure.”

Without missing a beat, Stewart pronounced patience as the biggest lesson she’s learned from horses in her own life.

Stewart’s childhood with horses was “a happy time.”

“I’ve been a horse person all my life,” she said. “I don’t have a horse now, but my horse fever has returned.”

Her love of horses started at 10 years old with her first horse and riding lessons.

“My poor parents had no idea what we were getting into,” she said, laughing, remembering equipment, feeding, training and horse shows in years past.

“They were always my best friends,” Stewart said. She always “went to the barn whenever the worst things happened,” such as when her teacher was killed in a car accident.

“I was always able to sort things out that way, by getting away from it and thinking things out,” all while looking into her horse’s sure and steady gaze.

Patience re-appeared as a handy virtue while writing her book.

“As a former newspaper reporter, it’s my instinct to hurry up to meet that deadline,” Stewart said. “With this book, I could take my time and be really careful.”

Stewart said she was “shocked” by the amount of research available, especially when haunting The University of Texas libraries. She also thumbed through books she’s had on her bookshelf since childhood.

She always tried to get original sources whenever possible, in order “to uncover new information, which brings a story to life.”

“The greatest thrill” was interviewing people involved in the stories. Among hundreds of interviews over 10 years, “the thrill of my life was interviewing William Steinkraus,” she said. “He is to the equestrian world what Arnold Palmer is to golf.”

Steinkraus called Stewart to talk about “Snowbound,” the first horse that took him to an Olympic gold medal.

Another new take on a familiar event is the story of “Black Jack,” a ceremonial riderless horse who appeared in President John F. Kennedy’s funeral procession. Stewart “tracked down the young soldier who led the horse, Arthur Carlson, who had never been interviewed in all these years.”

“He told me what it was like to lead that ‘half-crazy’ horse in the funeral,” she said. Black Jack was used to the serene environs of Arlington National Cemetery.

The hardest part of writing the book was finding photos or images to accompany each entry, especially as history got older. She found the art for Paul Revere’s horse from a 1950s-era calendar. The art came from all over the world.

Stewart appreciates the help she got from innumerable people in the process.

“These people care about their horses and they appreciate their horses being remembered,” she said. A thank you letter from Queen Elizabeth for including her horse, “Burmese,” is among Stewart’s keepsakes.

She is enjoying getting her book out there. “It was an emotional, special moment the first time a little girl came up to me wanting me to sign her book,” she said. “It’s something a writer dreams of.” The little girl was “a little 10-year-old horse person” who reminded Stewart of herself at that age.

Stewart is kicking around ideas for her next book, which will likely be fiction, but based on one of the horses readers can find in 100 Horses in History.

100 Horses in History – True Stories of Horses Who Shaped Our World is available at BookPeople (in Austin), www.amazon.com, and from the author: gayle@100horsesinhistory.com.

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