Mar 30, 2009


the Cowhorse
by Will James

This book is about the life of a ranch horse. Smoky was born free on the range in the wild west, and wandered about just living his life amongst the wide open spaces and half-wild range cattle, until at the age of four he was caught by a cowboy named Clint. The cowboy broke him to ride, and trained him to be a cutting horse, working cattle. They became an excellent, skilled team with deep affection for each other. Halfway through the book drama ensues (beyond the everyday excitement of rounding up cattle) when Smoky is stolen from the outfit by an outlaw. This man continually mistreats the horse, until he becomes mistrusting of and vicious towards people. He becomes a famous bronco in the rodeos, then when that nearly wears him out, is sold again to be hired out from a livery stable, and finally winds up as a plow horse on a farm. By the end of the book, Smoky has been treated so badly by humans that his health is ruined and his life almost over- when in the nick of time he gets rescued by a familiar face from his days back on the ranch.

In many ways this book reminded me a lot of Black Beauty. It had very similar themes- showing how the horse grew up relatively free, his experiences being broken in and trained to work, several relatively happy years being properly cared for, and then going through a string of ignorant or cruel people who mistreat him, until at the end he is found by a friend and nursed back to health. It shows in great detail how the horse feels and perceives his situations, and how he can excel at a skill working in harmony with humans, or suffer terribly at their hands. The section of the book that describes his life as a rodeo horse made me think of When the Legends Die (although in that case it was the man who became broken and bitter towards men). The one thing I found difficult about Smoky is its language. Will James lived and worked as a cowboy for much of his life, and the grammar and spelling in his book, while adding some authentic flavor of cowboy dialect and culture, was at first very awkward to read. It took me some time to get used to it. I haven't read many books about the "wild west", but this one certainly brings it alive for me- especially the vivid descriptions of the scenery. You can almost taste the dust in your mouth.

Rating: 4/5          263 pages, 1926

More opinions at:
Bookin' It
Children's Lit and Other Bits
The Newbery Project
All the Newberys
Read the Newberys


  1. Oh, my. I forgot all about When Legends Die! I'm having weird high school flashbacks. . . :-)


  2. You read it in high school? I never heard of this book until I stumbled across it by chance in the library one day. I wonder if I would have liked it in school- probably not.

  3. Jeane ~ Mostly I remember how upset I was about the treatment of the animals. I don't remember much of the actual story.


  4. Lezlie- Yeah, the cruel treatment to animals can be hard to read sometimes. I don't remember those details, but I recall being disturbed by it.


Comments are screened due to spam.